After the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) presented earlier this year its 10-year review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), and then shortly after that the White House sought the public’s input on the future strategy for nanotechnology development, it seems that the NNI itself is going to have a go itself at getting the public’s input on what it should be doing.
As of yesterday, November 1, the NNI is seeking public comment for thirty (30) days on its current draft of a strategic plan, which is accessible at the NNI Strategy Portal.
While I initially dismissed this idea of getting the public’s input on what the US nanotechnology strategy ought to be, I was soon turned around when I heard some of the highly informed, creative and comprehensive ideas that were collected by PCAST. Of course, once these serious ideas were presented, the PCAST chairperson then summarily dismissed them, instead seeking some quick and easy answers. But nonetheless as long as there are serious ideas out there, and some serious people listening, it couldn’t hurt.
I suppose the NNI has been a viable target for critics over the years, primarily for its less than overwhelming attention to the environmental, health and safety (EHS) concerns surrounding nanotechnology. An issue for which the NNI has been trying to address with a 300% increase in EHS funding from 2006 to its latest request for 2011.
But despite this the NNI remains a benchmark for nearly every government-led nanotechnology initiative that has sprouted up since (in 2007 the estimate ran to 35 of countries announcing nanotechnology programs) and rightly so I would argue.
While some governments have laid claim to have first set aside government funding for nanotechnology research, they haven’t really distinguished themselves since with a particularly well-run programs.Now that it appears the US nanotech strategy will place an increasing emphasis on developing applications from the basic nanotechnology research that has been funded over the past 10 years, and give more attention to the EHS concerns that may arise from these commercial applications, I think the NNI is more or less on the right track and maybe some helpful input from the public could sand the edges. We’ll see.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.