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NNI Grand Challenges Workshop Remarks


Thank you, Mike [Postek].

Good morning and welcome to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. We are very grateful to all of you for taking the time to participate in this important "Grand Challenge" workshop.

NIST and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office are especially grateful for the three days worth of intellectual investment you are about to contribute to its success.

Now, there is an old maxim that says success eludes those who listen to no one just as it eludes those who listen to everyone.

That's another way of saying why the composition of this group is so important. I think we have assembled the right people--from industry, government, and academe--to accomplish a planning task that is central to the future of nanotechnology.

Excluding the NIST participants, we have nearly equal representation from government laboratories, industry, and academic institutions. Three semiconductor industry consortia are present. And we also welcome participants from national metrology institutes in England, Germany, and Denmark.

The collective advice and insights of this group can yield the equivalent of a roadmap for developing and integrating the critical pieces of a measurement and standards foundation for nanotechnology.

And now is the time to tackle this important job, with both hands and arms.

It has been 44 years since Richard Feynman famously told an audience of the American Physical Society that there was "room at the bottom" for exploration, discovery, and fame in the world of what we now call "nanotechnology".

As you all know, Feynman was amazingly prophetic. He talked about how being able to actually look at and manipulate strands of DNA and RNA would help solve fundamental problems of biology, how you might build computer circuits by sticking strings of atoms together to make wires, how, maybe, you could build tiny robot surgeons to travel through blood vessels.

He also talked about how you might use tiny microscopic antennas to create beams of high-intensity light, all traveling in the same direction.

Feynman dismissed that notion as somewhat fanciful. He said, quote, "perhaps such a beam is not very useful technically or economically." End quote.

That just goes to show that no one is right about everything. The first optical laser was demonstrated the next year.

This stuff was really pretty visionary -- in fact, completely blue sky -- when Feynman said it. But in physics and electronics, a span of more than four decades is a long time.

Nanotechnology now has a name, an Initiative, a budget, results, a few applications, and a predicted trillion dollar market in the offing.

Dr. Feynman surely was not joking. The world is on the verge of seeing his ideas come to practical fruition and, exciting as those ideas are, they are just the beginning.

After all, nanotechnology is not really any one technology area. It's a category or a descriptor. Many technology areas are moving into the nanotech regime. And by that I mean, the research and development of structures and devices on the scale of molecules and atoms -- and exploiting the unique capabilities that come with working at this scale.

Not only that, nanotechnology may be the consummate example of the fusion of science and technology--where new knowledge and potential application are opposite sides of the same coin.

So, the world now waits with bated breath for the spigot of nanotechnology products and applications to open wide.

But how long must it wait? When will the sizable federal investment in nanotechnology--$4 billion over the next four years--begin to deliver tangible returns?

Well, a big part of the answer to this very important question lies within the domain of instrumentation and metrology.

To a large extent, measurement and analytical capabilities set the pace of technological progress and dictate how quickly the benefits of that progress reach the marketplace and are enjoyed by society.

To be sure new and better measurement tools are needed to sustain advances and discoveries in the laboratory--to distinguish artifact from novel phenomenon, for example, and to enable replication and verification of research results across laboratories. Without such tools, science will not acquire the detailed knowledge of the exotic properties and the odd behavior of matter at the nanoscale.

Indeed, this knowledge is essential. Without it, we cannot divine the principles and the laws that govern the nanoscopic world.
Ultimately, however, our nation's ability to attain the full promise of this anticipated revolution will require tools for what some are calling "industrial nanometrology." In other words, what is technically feasible often is not commercially viable, at least not without considerable extra effort and resources.

No big surprise here.

Industry will require tools for mass-production applications.

  • Tools that can span the continuum from nanometers to micrometers to millimeters.
  • Tools that do not require ultra-high-vacuum. environments or extreme levels of vibration isolation.
  • Tools that can be configured in mass arrays.
  • Tools that can be integrated into manufacturing processes.
  • Tools with high throughput that deliver data in real time.
  • And, yes, tools that are affordable and versatile.

Of course, this is only partial list of requirements necessary for cost-efficient nanomanufacturing. Obvious omissions are robust theoretical and computational tools.

Designers must be able to predict the properties of novel materials and structures before synthesis and to anticipate how these creations will interact as components of complex systems.

Nor did I mention a separate, yet related, category of measurement needs--that is, the means to ensure the reproducibility, comparability and traceability of measurement results across instruments, across organizations, and across international boundaries.

In short, efficient trade in nanotechnology products will require international measurement standards.

The prediction of $1 trillion nanotech market by 2015 may well be right, but we'll need a strong metrology infrastructure to get there.

And that's what we attend to here at NIST. Our unique mission is to support industry--and the quality of life--through measurements, standards, and technology.

We also are the nation's hub in the international measurement system and we collaborate closely with our counterpart national metrology institutes in other countries.

In fact, NIST and national measurement institutes in Germany, Denmark, Japan, China, Korea, and elsewhere already are participating in several so-called key comparisons in support of dimensional nanometrology.

Round-robin measurement exercises like these establish the basis for measurement traceability and comparability, which underpin trust and efficiency in trade and in business-to-business transactions.

Because of our measurement focus and related international responsibilities, NIST leads the inter-agency effort to meet the NNI Grand Challenge on "instrumentation and metrology."

During the last fiscal year, NIST invested nearly $47 million on R&D devoted to addressing measurement and other infrastructural needs in support of a nanotechnology economy.

Short-term needs -- such as those stemming from the continuing miniaturization of magnetic and electronic devices -- and long-term needs -- such as support for quantum computing and communications --are multiplying.

Budget-wise and resource-wise, we have a scaling problem of our own.

Effectively tackling our expanding to-do list requires us to set priorities and to work collaboratively with the intended users of the outputs of our measurement-related R&D.

The results of this workshop will be of immense value to NIST and to the other federal agencies involved in this Grand Challenge.

Your immediate charge is to identify needs and opportunities for nanometrology research--short and long-term. But as you do this, also think in terms of how you or your organization might work with NIST or other potential partners to solve the "hard problems" identified in your break-out sessions.

In the next month or so, NIST will dedicate a valuable new resource that can be enlisted in efforts to overcome these scientific and technological obstacles.

Construction of our new Advanced Measurement Laboratory will be complete. The AML will be the world's premier all-purpose facility for measurement-related research, designed to accommodate experiments demanding the highest air quality, and the strictest controls on temperature, vibration, and humidity.

By the way, the reception you will be attending tonight is the first public function in this facility. I guess it qualifies as a nanotechnology-related use.

The AML will house the National Nanofabrication Facility. We intend to operate sections of this state-of-the-art facility as a national user facility, where partners will have access to advanced equipment for nanoscale research and they can tap the expertise of NIST scientists and engineers.

While you are here, we hope you will network with NIST staff to learn how you might take advantage of these facilities.

The AML can be a tremendous collaborative resource in accomplishing the high-level goals and priorities identified at this workshop.

Also to further progress in efforts to build a nanotechnology infrastructure, we are in the process of forming the Mid-Atlantic Nanometrology and Nanomanufacturing Alliance, or MANNA, for short.

The objective is to build a distributed regional network of nanotechnology expertise and resources, including the AML and the NIST Center for Neutron Research. If you would like to learn about MANNA, I encourage you to contact Mike Postek.

Now, back to the important task at hand.

"Instrumentation and Metrology" are cross-cutting topics, underpinning elements of all the other NNI Grand Challenges.

For example, the tools and measurements necessary for Nanobiotechnology can leveraged to advance efforts on nanostructured materials, on nanomanufacturing, or on nanoscale devices for homeland security applications.

A great deal of thought went into the organization of the breakout sessions, and we believe these synergies will become apparent in the final output of the -workshop.

During your deliberations, please be open to the possibilities to "borrow," to leverage and to collaborate.

Finally, I strongly urge all of you to contemplate industrial nanometrology and instrumentation needs--to think in terms of what it will take to span the chasm between laboratory and marketplace and to make good on the promise of nanotechnology.

Now, I have the pleasure of introducing Phil Bond, Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology.

In this role, he serves as the Commerce Secretary's principal advisor on science and technology policy matters, offering guidance on federal efforts to maximize technology's contribution to America's economic growth.

Phil is the Bush Administration's point person on technology policy, and he has been called the strongest advocate for nanotechnology in Washington, always working to maintain public and private sector consensus on the critical importance of this field.

Another of Phil's priorities is cultivating technology partnerships.

I, for one, happen to like his priorities.

Phil, thank you for coming today.

Created October 7, 2009, Updated June 2, 2021