House passes nanotech R&D act

The House this afternoon approved a bill establishing a National Nanotechnology R&D Program.

The bill, 'to ensure continued U.S. leadership in nanotechnology,' authorizes $2.4 billion over the next three years for research of molecular technologies. An interagency coordination office would oversee the funding through five agencies and an advisory committee with members from industry and academic institutions providing program guidance.

The bill, HR 766, also calls for outside review to address social, ethical and environmental issues, and would establish a graduate scholarship program for students who agree to go to work for the government in exchange for educational assistance.

If the bill becomes law, the government's recognition of the new technology will be as important as the funding, said Scott Cooper, technology policy manager for Hewlett Packard Co.

'The dollars are very important, but the combination of funding and direction is just as much so,' Cooper said. 'Having an advisory board that includes some of the younger scientists who are doing exciting work in this area is an affirmation of the importance of the field.'

He said that in such a new field, government support is essential for the research that will lay the groundwork for development of practical applications.

The National Science Foundation has predicted there will be a $1 trillion market for devices and systems operating at atomic and molecular levels within a decade. Cooper said some nanotechnology now is being used in manufacturing to produce existing products more quickly and efficiently and improve their qualities. The next generation of nanotechnology could create new products with new capabilities, he said.

HP will be studying nanotechnology for use in computing, memory and communications, Cooper said. 'Those are issues that are maybe five years out.'

Under the bill, the National Science Foundation, Energy Department, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Environmental Protection Agency would receive $713 million in fiscal 2004, $784.5 million the following year and $864 million in 2006.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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