US nanotech initiative releases new strategic plan

A US federal body charged with coordinating the nation’s nanotechnology efforts recently published a new strategic plan that outlines its vision, goals and priorities for the next few years.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was established to coordinate the work of some 26 federal agencies with interests in nanoscience and technology. It provides funds for research within university and government laboratories, engages in education and public outreach work, fosters cross-disciplinary networks and partnerships, and supports businesses involved in nanotechnology.

“This strategic plan presents an overview of the NNI for the public, and will facilitate achievement of the NNI vision by offering guidance for agency leaders, programme managers, and the research community in their nanotechnology R&D investments and activities,” says director Clayton Teague. As well as specifying high-level goals, the plan identifies activities aimed at accomplishing these goals, and identifies major subject areas in which investments are needed to ensure the success of the initiative overall.

“Since its inception in 2001, the NNI has enabled a growth in nanotechnology R&D that probably would not have occurred otherwise,” says Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

Maynard describes the NNI as a major scientific success story, but adds: “Seven years on, people are beginning to ask where this is leading – is nanotechnology just another innovation for squeezing research dollars out of the federal government, or will it really translate into a stronger economy, more jobs, and a higher standard of living?”

As for the new strategic plan, Maynard feels that it does not inspire confidence. “In contrast to the initial plan released in 2004, it is short of specifics when it comes to realising the potential of nanotechnology,” he says. “And it fails to look critically at what has been achieved over the past three years, where the barriers to progress have been, and what needs to be done to overcome them and build on previous successes.”