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National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) heads US research into nanoscale research

NNI – Credit:NNI

The mission for the nanotechnology organization is to lead a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society.

Now in its twelfth year, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) continues to be the most intensive and broad reaching of US scientific programs. Originally promoted by President Bill Clinton in 2000, NNI gained federal standing in 2003 when President George W. Bush signed into law the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. This Act provided over $1B for research and development into technologies focused on nanoscale science.

In 2012, the NNI has funded $1.8B of programs through a variety of programs and organizations. The largest recipients are:

  • DOE ($442M)
  • NSF ($429M)
  • NIH ($409M)
  • DOD ($290M)
  • NIST ($102M)
  • NASA ($22M)

Other federal agencies that receive funding include the EPA, USDA, FDA, National Cancer Institute and the USPTO. The US has invested over $18B in nanotechnology pursuits since the programs inception.

For perspective, nanoscale geometries are on the order of one million times smaller than the length of an ant. Specifically, a nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

The NNI has five core focus areas:

  1. Carbon based nanoelectronics
  2. Quantum information processing
  3. Nanoscale computing utilizing electron state variables
  4. Integration of photonics and electronics
  5. Co-development and sharing between corporate, industrial and academic research and manufacturing

The focus areas are overseen by four working groups to promote effectiveness and productivity across variety of disciplines:

  1. Global Issues in Nanotechnology
  2. Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications
  3. Nanomanufacturing, Industry Liaison and Innovation
  4. Nanotechnology Public Engagement and Communication

NNI is working with many of the top US chip manufacturers (see related article Top Semiconductor Companies ).

One very promising area of research pertains to graphene. This one-atom thick layer of carbon is expected to eventually replace many of current transistor technologies used for switching and sensors. Texas Instruments (TI) is making progress with their wafer deposition process to commercially produce graphene. For more details on this technology, please see related article – Graphene Development For Next Generation Transistors .

In addition to collaboration with the private sector, NNI is heavily involved with academic research at more than 40 US universities. The Research Initiative provides a partnership between academia, government and industry to leverage not only the funding but the intellectual property of these entities. Cutting edge research and exploratory science is often undertaken at the university level where both students and professors can investigate ideas without the pressure of providing a profitable return to shareholders. Alternatively, corporations can advise and guide academics on the most promising avenues of research they see within their own organizations. Overall, there are more than 100 major interdisciplinary education and research facilities across the US involved in nanotechnology research.

A few benefits that nanotechnology has brought us are:

– oil spill clean-up in which nano fiber wires can absorb 20 times its weight in oil – solar panel cell increased efficiency

– cancer fighting where drugs can be delivered directly to cancerous tumors

– water purification by removing arsenic from drinking water

The uses and applications for nanotechnology are still in the beginning stages. This science will undoubtedly be a driver for new breakthroughs in the areas of medicine, technology and energy in the coming decade.

For more information, please visit the official government site NNI .

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