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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Dr. John H. Marburger
Dr. John H. Marburger
December 3, 2003

Dr. John H. Marburger
Hello, I'm John Marburger, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Earlier today I had the pleasure of attending the bill signing ceremony where President Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. This Act authorizes federal investments in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, currently a $850 million program involving 10 federal agencies. It will help to ensure America's leadership in this exciting new set of technologies. I look forward to answering your questions this afternoon.

Andrew, from Washington, D.C. writes:
Dr. Marburger, Could you describe in detail the potential undesirable consequences that may stem from nanotechnology. Some experts fear its possibly negative effects and others worry that warnings of such long-term dangers will hinder funding of current research. How does the Bush Administration propose nanotechnology researchers mitigate risks while moving forward with this burgeoning field?

Dr. John H. Marburger
The risks from nanotechnology do not differ substantially from those of other technology hazards, such as toxicity of new chemicals or new biological materials, or environmental impacts. I believe many of these concerns can be addressed with existing regulatory mechanisms. The new nanotechnology act specifies that these risks be investigated, widely discussed, and responsibly addressed.

Doug, from Urbana writes:
Dr. Marburger, What do you think the most promising emerging sensor technology (integrated optics, microfluidics, electrical sensors, MEMs, or some combination thereof) and how is the administration trying to direct research in this area?

Also, could you put in a good word at the NSF for my graduate fellowship application?

Thanks, Doug

Dr. John H. Marburger
All these fields offer some applications for new sensor concepts. A major new funding source for people with ideas about sensor technology is the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Science and Technology. See their website for more details on programs. (

Good luck on your NSF fellowship application!

Rick, from Albany, NY writes:
Hello, Dr. Marburger, I am interested in learning about where some of the $3.7 billion might be headed. Upstate New York as a nanotechnology initiative that has gained momentum in recent years called Albany NanoTech. Is this something the White House is looking at?

Dr. John H. Marburger
As a former president of a SUNY campus (Stony Brook) I am very familiar with the exciting investments New York State is making in nanotechnology. Albany NanoTech has attracted national attention, and should be in a good position to help develop this exciting field.

The funds authorized by this bill are appropriated through multiple federal agencies, most of which offer competitive grant programs.

Karen, from Boston writes:
How will this bill impact small businesses in the US focused on nanotechnology? Will this bill have a greater benefit to small (i.e. start-up companies) businesses or larger well established companies (e.g. IBM, HP, etc)?

Dr. John H. Marburger
The nanotechnology bill encourages the use of Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research Program funds for nanotechnology. Both programs are specific to small businesses.

Stan, from Sterling NE writes:
My 9th grade physical science class has just done reports on nanotechnology more specifically nanotubules. They would like to know were in their lives they will see nanotechnology first to be used and how it will most affect their lives. I would like to know how much research and money is our government spending on nanotechnology.

Dr. John H. Marburger
Some nanotechnology applications are already available in consumer products. Some types of stain resistant clothing employ nanofibers. Carbon nanotubes are used in some composite materials. Paints, catalysts, and many chemical products contain nano-scale particles.

At this point in the development of this young field it is impossible to say what its greatest impact will be, but I'm betting on applications in energy use and generation.

The current federal funding for nanotechnology is approximately $850 million.

Tad, from Fort Collins writes:
How much progress has been made in quantum teleportation?

Dr. John H. Marburger
There is a phenomenon in physics that is actually called quantum teleportation, but it won't get you from here to there.

Andrea, from Arlington, VA writes:
My organization has a partnership with the NanoBusiness Alliance and as identified under the National Nanotechnology Initiatuve we have begun providing nanotechnology educational programs to our high school students and would like to extend this program to more students. Is there a government agency that funds such activities and if so which ones. Any advice is appreciated as we a non profit 501(C)(3). Thanks very much

Dr. John H. Marburger
Try the National Science Foundation ( They fund science education programs at all levels.

Wes, from Urbana writes:
Dr. Marburger, Is the development of nanotechnology a large priority to the protection of the homeland, relative to other technology? If so, will faculty and graduate students researching nanotechnology applications be funded disproportionately?



Dr. John H. Marburger
Although nanotechnology is a national research priority, it is not the only such priority. We try not to fund any area "disproportionately."

Homeland security applications do include many opportunities for products and systems that might be enhanced through nanotechnology.

Bryan, from Indianapolis writes:
How much "nanotechnology" is hype? I work in "biotechnology" and have for over a decade. I shake my head daily at what comes out of the mouths of "experts" in the popular press and from governmental "information" sources. There are plenty of half-truths, diddled figures, and lots of positive and negative hype, but the real information never seems to get to the public. As a realist, I'd have to say that "nanotechnology" is going to follow the exact same path. What hard, verifiable, non-political jibber-jabber evidence is there that "nanotechnology" will not end up as badly misunderstood and as subject to hype and spin as "biotechnology"?

Dr. John H. Marburger
The capabilities we have today to manipulate matter at the atomic scale have implications for many fields. I think of nanotechnology as "inorganic biotechnology," but both words can refer to these emerging atomic scale capabilities. I hope the investments we are making in these areas will lead to wider public understanding of the possibilities, and reduce the unwanted hype that has indeed emerged about nanotechnology.

William, from Woodland Hills, CA writes:
Dr., how pertinent is nanotech to the U.S. military?

Dr. John H. Marburger
The three leading federal agencies in the current National Nanotechnology Initiative are the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy. One example of DOD interest in nanotechnology are protective and adaptive fabrics for battlefield clothing. Lightweight, superstrong materials with special properties, exquisitely sensitive sensors have obvious defense applications.

Henry, from Patchhogue writes:
Also as a student majoring in accounting at briarcliffe college.I would to know will you be visiting our school and will this technology be 1. useful 2.very useful 3. a necessity in the, accounting profession.Thank you

Dr. John H. Marburger
I am not scheduled to visit your school, but I am confident that accountants will be using products incorporating nanotechnology in the future. If you are wearing stain resistant khakis, then you already are a nanotechnology user.

Mike, from Town, State writes:
Will nanotechnology research be the driving catalyst for most of the scientific research funded and proposed by the Bush Administration?

Dr. John H. Marburger
No. The largest category of federal science and technology funding today is biomedical research. This excludes development expenses associated with military systems. Health research does include some areas of nanotechnology, but expenditures on this and other fields such as energy, environmental research, and materials science dwarfs nanotechnology funding.

David, from Tokyo, Japan writes:
What exactly is nanotechnology?

Dr. John H. Marburger
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at scales ranging from one to 100 billionths of a meter. Chemical substances at this scale have properties that can differ very substantially from their bulk properties. The possibility exists to create intricate structures similar to complex organic chemicals such as proteins and nucleic acids at this scale.

Dr. John H. Marburger
Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about nanotechnology and its promise for future applications.