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June 18, 2015

White House OSTP Calls for “Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges for the Next Decade”

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On June 17, 2015, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) published a request for information (RFI) seeking suggestions for “Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges for the Next Decade.” The Federal Register notice states: “A Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge should be an ambitious but achievable goal that harnesses nanoscience, nanotechnology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and has the potential to capture the public’s imagination.” According to OSTP, the challenge should “inspire different sectors to invest resources to achieve the ambitious goal and stimulate a network of activities that will drive scientific ideas towards commercial products while catalyzing new discoveries.” An effective grand challenge has the following characteristics:

  • A measurable end-point that is highly ambitious but achievable;
  • Requires advances in fundamental scientific knowledge, tools, and infrastructure for successful completion;
  • Has clear intermediate milestones (measurable and valuable in their own right) that will be achieved en route to the final goals;
  • Drives the need for collaboration between multiple disciplines, some of which do not normally interact, causing multiple organizations to come together to collaborate and to share resources and information to solve the challenge;
  • Spans efforts from discovery and fundamental science to engineering demonstration and commercialization; i.e., catalyzes the transition of technologies from laboratory to market;
  • Is too big to be undertaken by one or even a few organizations;
  • Is exciting enough to motivate decision makers to provide funding and resources and multiple organizations to collaborate, share resources, and information to solve the challenge; and
  • Captures the imagination of the public, thereby facilitating strong support for the resources required to achieve the goals.

The RFI includes examples developed by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) agencies, working with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and OSTP. By 2025, the nanotechnology research and development (R&D) community is challenged to:

  • Increase the five-year survival rates by 50 percent for the most difficult to treat cancers;
  • Create devices no bigger than a grain of rice that can sense, compute, and communicate without wires or maintenance for ten years, enabling an “internet of things” revolution;
  • Create computer chips that are 100 times faster yet consume less power;
  • Manufacture atomically-precise materials with fifty times the strength of aluminum at half the weight and the same cost;
  • Reduce the cost of turning sea water into drinkable water by a factor of four; and
  • Determine the environmental, health, and safety characteristics of a nanomaterial in a month.
  • OSTP seeks input from nanotechnology stakeholders, including researchers in academia and industry, non-governmental organizations (NGO), scientific and professional societies, and all other interested members of the public. Responses are due July 16, 2015.