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Roundtable on Nanotechnology Commercialization

Remarks as prepared.

Welcome, everyone, to the roundtable on "Nanotechnology Commercialization: Where Are We Now?

I would like to begin with a few notes of thanks and appreciation for bringing this roundtable to fruition.

First to ONAMI (the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute) and its President "Skip Rung. We called Skip on short notice to ask for his help in making this roundtable happen. "Skip didn't hesitate...he rolled up his sleeves, pulled out his e-Rolodex and got to work....pulling together this amazing group of professionals in record time. Without a doubt, this roundtable wouldn't have happened without Skip's untiring efforts, attention to detail, and unwavering support.

Second, I want to thank OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) president Nancy Stueber and her staff for hosting this roundtable and providing us with such an appropriate and inspiring forum to hold this discussion.

Third, my heartfelt thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden for partnering with us on this roundtable. A leading voice in Congress in promoting and funding the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, Sen. Wyden serves as co-chair of the Congressional Nanotechnology Caucus.

Sen. Wyden was the Senate sponsor of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act that provided the legislative foundation for the National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2003,authorized $3.7 billion in nano R&D over four years, and highlighted the importance of commercialization efforts. The Act is now up for reauthorization and Sen. Wyden is leading the fight. I will come back to this Act a little later.

Let me also offer my thanks to Senator Wyden's staff—in particular Alex Perkins and Jay Ward—who were instrumental in working with us to put this roundtable together.

And most importantly, I extend my sincere thanks to the roundtable participants—for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedules to share your experiences, insights, thoughts, concerns, and solutions with us.

Technology Administration

It is my honor to serve as Under Secretary for Technology and to direct the activities of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration (TA).

Let me talk briefly about why the Technology Administration cares about nanotechnology commercialization.

TA is the only Federal agency with the explicit mission of fostering U.S. competitiveness through technological innovation.

Because of the importance of nanotechnology to U.S. economic, societal and national security interests, TA is engaged deeply and broadly in nanotechnology research and development, knowledge dissemination, and policy.

You are probably most familiar with our standards and measurement work at NIST, home to the Advanced Measurements Laboratory (AML).

In addition to NIST, our National Technical Information Service collects and distributes technical reports and data on nanotechnology research produced by Federal agencies.

And our Office of Technology Policy provides analysis, commercial perspective, and thought leadership for the NNI.

Through these three agencies and through our coordination of activities on an interagency basis, TA seeks to promote policies, plans and investments that position the United States as the global leader in nanoscience, nanotechnology and nanotechnology commercialization.

Earlier I mentioned the 21st Century Nanotechnology R&D Act. In 2003, Senator Wyden sponsored the 21st Century Nanotechnology R&D Act, which passed both Senate and House with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. There are many important provisions within this seminal law, but allow me to call out a few of the explicit commercialization goals set forth in the Act:

  • Ensuring United States global leadership in the development and application of nanotechnology;
  • Advancing the United States productivity and industrial competitiveness through stable, consistent, and coordinated investments in long-term scientific and engineering research in nanotechnology;
  • Accelerating the deployment and application of nanotechnology research and development in the private sector, including startup companies;
  • Ensuring United States global leadership in the development and application of nanotechnology; And the Act calls for us to accomplish these objectives while,
  • Ensuring that ethical, legal, environmental, and other appropriate societal concerns...are considered during the development of nanotechnology.
  • This is the goal of the ensure U.S. global nanotechnology preeminence and industrial leadership within a framework that is ethical, protects the environment and respects societal interests. And it is the objective the Technology Administration works to achieve.

Earlier this year, TA contracted with the University of Illinois Springfield's School of Business and Management to work with TA technology policy analysts to produce a report on barriers to nanotechnology commercialization. Today's roundtable supports this study and is a part of the Technology Administration's wider efforts to meet the objectives of the National Nanotechnology Initiative as set forth in this Act.

The Challenge of Realizing Nanotechnology's Potential

Allow me briefly to lay the challenge before you: what can we do to ensure we realize the full potential of nanotechnology.

Perhaps no single technology offers more economic and societal promise than nanotechnology.

To ensure U.S. technological leadership in this emerging field, the Federal government initiated the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2001 and has subsequently invested more than $5 billion in nanotechnology research.

For 2008, President Bush has proposed $1.4 billion for nanotechnology research, a three-fold increase since 2001.

These investments are intended to deliver significant benefits to our country, its citizens and its companies.

These benefits can only be achieved if we are successful in delivering nanotech products and services to the marketplace.

State governments and the private sector have also invested billions. Early applications of nanotechnology are already yielding dividends on our investments.

Nevertheless, barriers and potential barriers that impede further commercialization may limit our ability to capture the full potential of nanotechnology. Make no mistake; we are in a race to bring nanotechnology innovations to market. Nations around the world are investing heavily along the entire path of research, development and commercialization to be the first to market and capture the promise of nanotechnology leadership.

While emerging technologies often face common barriers to commercialization, nanotechnology, in particular, faces unique challenges as well.

These barriers may include capital issues, market readiness, regulatory uncertainty, health and safety, workforce readiness, public attitudes and perceptions, infrastructure, standards, nomenclature, and manufacturability.

It is said that federal funding for science and engineering is the process by which we convert money into knowledge, and that commercialization is the process by which we convert that knowledge into money.

The United States' track record in the former is unsurpassed, and our work in nanotechnology is no exception. Our record in the latter, however, offers room for improvement. Too often we, as a nation, have failed to capitalize on the economic value of our technical know-how. While the technology piece of nano is truly "rocket science and "brain surgery, I think too often we assume the commercialization piece is trivial. It is not. To be effective as a nation requires all the stakeholders working together—scientists, engineers, business leaders, investors, and policymakers—to overcome barriers and move technology into the marketplace.

To do so, it is essential that policymakers at all levels—Federal, state, local—understand what barriers exist and seek insights into ways that these barriers can be overcome or by-passed.

To do this well, policymakers must listen to the business executives, engineers, scientists and capital providers operating on the front line. That is the intent of today's roundtable.

Nobody knows the challenges you face in bringing nanotechnology to the market better then you do.

So we are here to listen and learn from you.

Today we will seek to do the impossible, which is to identify barriers to nanotechnology commercialization and potential ways to overcome those barriers...all within 180 minutes.

I say impossible:

  • because nanotechnology covers such a wide spectrum of technologies and applications,
  • because the factors that affect commercialization are both numerous and complex, and
  • because the factors may be unique for different types of nanotechnology and nanotech applications.

So, with such an important and prodigious task ahead, let's get down to the business at hand.

Introduction of Senator Wyden

It is now my pleasure to introduce to you, Senator Ron Wyden.

Sen. Wyden was the Senate sponsor of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act that provided the legislative foundation for the National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2003, authorized $3.7 billion in nano R&D over four years, and highlighted the importance of commercialization efforts.

The Act is now up for reauthorization and Sen. Wyden is leading the fight.

We look forward to working closely with you, Sen. Wyden.

Created December 17, 2009, Updated June 7, 2019