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Press Releases :: April 14, 2011

Subcommittee Hearing Highlights Economic Benefits of Federal Investments in Nanotechnology R&D

(Washington, DC) –The Subcommittee on Research and Science Education of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today held a hearing to review the research and development (R&D) priorities under the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and to examine the economic benefits of NNI to our nation.  The Committee was instrumental in the development of the 2003 21st Century National Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (P.L. 108-153), which authorized the program through 2008 and established formal interagency planning, coordinating, and budgeting for NNI.  Currently, 25 federal agencies participate in NNI, 15 of which contribute to NNI’s R&D budget.  The fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget for NNI was $1.9 billion across those 15 agencies, and the FY 2012 request is $2.1 billion.

In the 110th Congress, the Committee held hearings leading to the development of the NNI Amendments Act of 2008, a bill that would have reauthorized and updated the NNI program, incorporating a number of management and planning recommendations made by outside expert panels.  While the reauthorization bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis in both the 110th and 111th Congress, the Senate failed to act, and the program continues without an explicit statutory mandate.

Raising the possibility of introducing NNI reauthorization legislation yet again in the 112th Congress, Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) said, “While the NNI is working well, there are opportunities to formalize some of the recommendations we have received in the last few years from PCAST and the National Academies on how to strengthen the program even further, without any additional costs.  Our bill has been about making smarter use of the money we are already spending.”

Much of the discussion during the hearing focused on the direct connection between federally funded academic research and economic growth and job creation in diverse business sectors whose most recent innovations are based on breakthroughs in nanotechnology.  Some estimates project nanotechnology product revenues will reach $3 trillion by 2015.  Witnesses discussed how to strengthen public-private R&D partnerships to ensure that we reach that goal.  All of the witnesses also stressed the connection between federal investments in university research and the development of the science and engineering talent needed to fill the high-tech jobs already being created by the companies represented on the witness panel.
Congressman Lipinski opened his statement by saying, “I’m happy that the first hearing we are having in this subcommittee is on one of my favorite subjects – nanotechnology.  Not only are nanotech products and science fascinating in their own right, but federal investments in this area have already been creating jobs in my state and others. I firmly believe the potential for return on our relatively modest federal investment is many times what we’ve already witnessed.”

Finally, Members and witnesses discussed the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risk research that is a component of the NNI.  “It is important for the successful development of nanotechnology that potential downsides be addressed from the beginning in a straightforward and open way,” said Congressman Lipinski.  “The public needs to be confident in the products they buy.  Therefore, we need to continue to invest in basic research to better understand how newly created materials can impact health and the environment. And we need standards and measurement tools so that companies and regulators alike can work together to address these common challenges.”  Witnesses agreed that the federal government must continue to support a robust program of EHS risk research.

At today’s hearing the following witnesses testified: Dr. Clayton Teague, Director, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office; Dr. Jeffrey Welser, Director, Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, Semiconductor Research Corporation and Semiconductor Industry Alliance; Dr. Seth Rudnick, Chairman, Board of Directors, Liquidia Technology; Dr. James Tour, Professor of Chemistry, Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Rice University; and Mr. William Moffitt, President and Chief Executive Officer, Nanosphere, Inc.

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