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May 1, 2012

PCAST Releases Fourth Assessment of the NNI

Lynn L. Bergeson

On April 27, 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released the Report to the President and Congress on the Fourth Assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which is a Congressionally mandated biennial review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). PCAST found that the NNI, which has provided $16 billion to date in investments by 26 federal agencies, “has had a ‘catalytic and substantial impact’ on the growth of the U.S. nanotechnology industry and should be continued.” PCAST states that, in large part due to the NNI, the U.S. “is today, by a wide range of measures, the global leader in this exciting and economically promising field of research and technological development.” The Obama Administration has proposed $1.8 billion in funding for fiscal year 2013 for 15 agencies with budgets dedicated to nanotechnology research and development (R&D).

According to the report, the federal agencies in the NNI made substantial progress in addressing many of PCAST’s 2010 recommendations that were aimed at maintaining U.S. leadership in nanotechnology. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) states that one of NNI’s primary goals “is to stay ahead of heavily-investing competitors such as China, South Korea, the European Union, and Russia.” PCAST found that the U.S. federal government “continues to invest more in nanotechnology R&D than any other single country.” Overall, PCAST concluded that the NNI remains a successful cooperative venture that is supporting high-quality research, facilitating the translation of discoveries into new commercial products, and ensuring the Nation’s continued global leadership in this important field. PCAST “applauds the increased efforts of the National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office [(NNCO)] in the area of commercialization and coordination with industry and in the release of a focused research strategy for addressing environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications of nanotechnology.” 

PCAST noted that additional efforts are needed in four areas: strategic planning; program management; metrics for assessing impact; and increasing support for research on EHS issues associated with nanotechnology. According to PCAST, continued lack of attention to these concerns will make it harder for the U.S. to maintain its leadership role in the commercialization of nanotechnology.