If you follow nanotechnology news through aggregators like Google Alerts, you likely have noticed this is government grant season. For the last few months there has been a steady stream of announcements for million-dollar grants going to research facilities throughout the US.
One that has caught my eye is a $1.6 million grant to New York University (NYU) to upgrade its Structural DNA Nanotechnology facility. It would be accurate to describe this grant as being on the smaller scale of the grants that have been going out lately with $4 to $6 million being on the larger end of the spectrum.
(By the way, and in no way specific to this particular grant, scores of relatively small grants like this may do more harm than good. While they may spread the wealth around, they might actually hinder development that a grand focused effort might enable, as Chad Mirkin pointed out at the President’s Council on Science and Technology (PCAST) webcast back in June by noting that currently the NSF has a couple of million dollars set aside for developing new instrumentation technologies, but they are splitting the project between 13 bids.)
But what struck me was not the size of the grant but for whom and for what. The star researcher at NYU is Nadrian Seeman, who has become a sort of savior to the molecular manufacturing (MNT) community, although he may not always adhere to the orthodoxy set down by some of its adherents.
It could be argued that this grant indicates that the MNT brand of nanotechnology is getting some funding for research after all. It may not be the diamondoid mechanosynthesis (DMS) variety that has enjoyed so many computer simulations but more the biological kind but is a step towards nanoscale machines making other machines.
While not a staggering large grant, and really targeted at improving the lab at NYU rather than funding specific research, perhaps this will begin to allay fears that the concept of MNT has been blackballed by government funding institutions and the aspirations of MNT admirers can be lifted.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.