Maxine Savitz and Ed Penhoe provided a recent presentation summarizing the highlights of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report on the status of the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) at a public meeting held at the National Academics on March 12, 2010.
Ms. Savitz provided a brief review at the beginning of the presentation regarding how, when, and why NNI was formed; its history from 2000 - 2010; and some of the participants in the PCAST review process. Participants included representatives from DuPont, IBM, A123 Systems, Nanocomp Technologies, Rice, Harvard, Caltech, Sandia National Labs, and the Woodrow Wilson Institute. Ms Savitz also explained that the group held two prior working meetings to solicit input from government agencies, the legislative and executive branches, as well as outside stakeholders. Finally, she explained that PCAST’s report has three major thematic areas: NNI program management; NNI output and work product; and NNI environmental, health, and safety programs and strategies.
Ed Penhoet then provided an update regarding NNI’s continued successes. He noted that the US is currently the world leader in nanotechnology and commercialization, but that other nations are gaining fast -- particularly in Asia and Europe. He further noted that NNI has had a substantial impact on the US nanotechnology industry over the past ten years, which can be seen in the larger number of nanotechnology patents filed, nano-related publications, and nano-related products hitting the commercial market during that period.
Mr. Penhoet further explained that while NNI is being effectively managed, there is still room for some improvement and greater coordination.
For an example, Mr. Penhoet pointed out that there is a lack of basic underlying data from which to analyze the economics of nano-related research, development, and commercialization in the US. Thus, it is difficult to precisely quantify the economic effectiveness of the NNI in measurable terms.
As another example, Mr. Penhoet also mentioned the need to identify and understand potential nano-related risks -- both for purposes of fundamental science, and also to provide a clear regulatory environment and path for commercialization. While undoubtedly a significant portion of PCAST’s written report touches on these issues, the topic was only briefly mentioned in passing during the presentation.
Mr. Penhoet then spent the majority of his presentation explaining the five major recommendations embodied in PCAST’s written report:
1. Increase NNI funding for manufacturing research while maintaining support for basic research.
2. Strengthen the NNCO, the NNI coordinating entity, with additional funds and a broader mandate.
3. Require that metrics be developed to track benefits of nanotechnology such as job creation.
4. Develop a cross agency strategy that links EHS research and knowledge gaps and decision making needs.
5. Expedite the citizenship review process for those receiving advanced degrees in science and engineering.
The presentation closed with comments by several PCAST members regarding (i) potential methods for developing the underlying economic data needed to properly evaluate nano-related job creation and return on investment; and (ii) potential methods for increasing retention rates of foreign students obtaining advanced nano-related degrees in the US by reducing and/or streamlining citizenship restrictions.
PCAST voted to accept and approve the report after it is amended to reflect the comments discussed during the presentation.
 Director of the Washington Advisory Group, an LECG Company. Ms. Savitz is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Conservation, US Department of Energy. Prior to her DOE service, she was program manager for Research Applied to National Needs at the National Science Foundation. Following her government service, she served in executive positions in the private sector, including: President of Lighting Research Institute, assistant to the vice president for engineering at The Garrett Corporation, and General Manager of Allied Signal Ceramic Components. She recently retired from the position of General Manager for Technology Partnerships at Honeywell.
President of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Mr. Penhoet is the former dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, prior to which he cofounded and managed the Chiron Corporation. Prior that he was a faculty member of the Biochemistry Department of U.C. Berkeley. Mr. Penhot currently serves as the vice chairman of the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee which oversees the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine created by the passage of Proposition 71, the stem cell initiative.