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Promoting Innovation and Competitiveness

On December 3, 2003, President Bush signed into law the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which authorizes funding for nanotechnology research and development (R&D) over four years, starting in FY 2005. This legislation puts into law programs and activities supported by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), one of the President’s highest multi-agency R&D priorities.

Nanotechnology offers the promise of breakthroughs that will revolutionize the way we detect and treat disease, monitor and protect the environment, produce and store energy, and build complex structures as small as an electronic circuit or as large as an airplane. Nanotechnology is expected to have a broad and fundamental impact on many sectors of the economy, leading to new products, new businesses, new jobs, and even new industries.

Nanotechnology is the ability to work at the atomic and molecular levels, corresponding to lengths of approximately 1 – 100 nanometers, or 1/100,000th the diameter of a human hair. Nanotechnology is not merely the study of small things; it is the research and development of materials, devices, and systems that exhibit physical, chemical, and biological properties that are different from those found at larger scales.

Nanotechnology is one of the Administration’s top multi-agency research and development priorities.

  • In Fiscal Year (FY) 2004, the President requested $849 million for nanotechnology R&D across 10 federal agencies—a 10% increase over the amount requested in FY 2003.
  • Nanotechnology research has been a priority for the Administration for the last three years. Overall funding for nanotechnology research has increased by 83% since 2001.

Nanotechnology promises to be both evolutionary and revolutionary—improving and creating entirely new products and processes in areas from electronics to health care.

  • Carbon nanotubes are essentially sheets of graphite rolled into extremely narrow tubes – a few nanometers in diameter. Because of their nanoscale size and excellent conductivity, carbon nanotubes are being studied as the possible building blocks of future electronic devices.
  • Nanotechnology may one day enable the detection of disease on the cellular level and the targeting of treatment only to tissues where it is needed in a patient’s body, potentially alleviating many unpleasant and sometimes harmful side effects.
  • Nano-manufacturing of parts and materials "from the bottom up"—by assembling them on an atom-by-atom basis—may one day be used to reduce waste and pollution in the manufacturing process.
  • Nanosensors already are being developed to allow fast, reliable, real-time monitoring for everything from chemical attack to environmental leaks.

Nanotechnology can help provide clean energy. For example, carbon nanotubes are a form of nanomaterial with many potential applications.

  • Woven into a cable, carbon nanotubes could provide electricity transmission lines with substantially improved performance over current power lines.
  • Certain nanomaterials show promise for use in making more efficient solar cells and the next-generation catalysts and membranes that will be used in hydrogen-powered fuel cells.