Judy Biggert

Promise of Nanotechnology - Feb. 2, 2003

Judy Biggert
February 27, 2003
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...The subject at hand, and why we are here today, and that is the promise of nanotechnology and what it could mean for our nation's competitiveness.

Centers of Excellence

First off, all of us learned in grade school and high school that atoms are the building blocks of nature. In the years since I was in school, incredible machines have allowed us not only to see every one of those atoms, but to develop tools to manipulate them. And the DOE Office of Science had a major role in the development of these machines, including the Advanced Photon Source, the National Synchrotron Light Source, the Advanced Light Source, the High Flux Isotope Reactor, the Intense Pulsed Neutron Source, the Manuel Lujan Center, and coming on-line soon, the Spallation Neutron Source.

As a result, nanotechnology's potential abounds. It is:

• Giving sight to the blind;

• Putting more power in our hands—or rather our handhelds;

• Protecting our soldiers from chemical and biological weapons; and

• Making our automobiles lighter, stronger, safer, and more fuel efficient.

And so it is a special privilege to address you at such an exciting time for nanoscience research at the DOE, as construction begins on a number of critical nanoscience user facilities at national labs around the country, and major equipment is being purchased for others, like Argonne National Laboratory in the district I represent.

Thanks to all of you and folks like Pat Dehmer and Ray Orbach, the DOE has a stellar reputation when it comes to designing, building, and operating user facilities. I often have to explain to my colleagues here in Washington that the DOE Office of Science supports a unique system of programs based on large-scale, specialized user facilities and large teams of scientists focused on national priorities in scientific research. The nanoscience centers of excellence, under development right now, will be no exception, and will only add to the already impressive list of DOE's 18,000 current users, most of whom are university faculty and graduate students from all 50 states and beyond.

I am convinced that these centers of excellence will only enhance our scientific strength, which is very much needed at this point in time. They also are key to the overall success of the National Nanotechnology Initiative or NNI.

That's why Congress just included $28 million for their continued construction - up $4.5 million from the President's request - in the FY03 omnibus bill passed two weeks ago today. And that's why the President proposed a 48 percent increase for the DOE in his fiscal year 2004 NNI budget. In fact, of the $74 million increase proposed for the NNI in FY04, all but $10 million is to go to the DOE, which is a testament to the excellent work that many of you have been doing.


So where does this kind of support come from when the overall budget for the DOE Office of Science is flat for a third year in a row? Why is there so much popular and political support for nanotechnology R&D?

Well, unlike so many other complex scientific concepts, nanotechnology is actually something that even Members of Congress and the President can wrap their minds around.

And unlike other research efforts, some of which are being done for the sake of science and our understanding of it, the broad and practical applications of nanotechnology, and its benefits, can be described in layman's terms:

• Sensing the presence of unwanted pathogens in blood;

• Improving the efficiency of electricity distribution;

• Dispensing medications;

• Cleaning polluted soil and water, or building the next generation of spacecraft, one molecule at a time.

That's why I joined my colleagues on the Science Committee, including the chairs of the other subcommittees with jurisdiction over the NNI, in cosponsoring H.R. 766, "The Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003." This bill authorizes $2.1 billion over 3 years for nanotechnology R&D programs at the DOE, NSF, Department of Commerce, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The other reason that I and my colleagues on the Science Committee were eager to introduce this bill is because we believe it is important for Congress and the President to recognize and reward successful interagency collaborations.

Even though it is relatively young, the National Nanotechnology Initiative is much more than the sum of its parts; it's an example of the unique synergy that can result from true interagency cooperation, and should be a model for others. It clearly demonstrates the rapid progress that can be made when numerous and diverse federal science agencies bring their unique strengths to bear on a project of national significance.

But I probably don't need to tell you that. No one here—with the possible exception of me - needs to take Nano 101. In fact, you could teach it. It is you who know better than I of the promise and potential of nanotechnology.

And I probably don't need to tell you how nanotechnology will contribute to our national competitiveness. But that's what I've been asked to do, and thankfully, given the relatively early hour - especially for those of you from the west coast - it's not a difficult pitch to make.


Let's start out with a broad question. How important is research and development in general to our national competitiveness? The answer is simple: it's very important. There is no question that United States has managed to turn its R&D strengths into economic and commercial benefits. According to Nobel economist Robert Solow, at least half of the total growth of the US economy since World War II was brought about by science and technology innovations.

Will nanotechnology R&D have the same impact? I'm beginning to think that nanotechnology, with its broad applications and endless possibilities, could possibly on its own contribute to half the economic growth over the next 50 years.

I don't think I'm being overly optimistic. Just consider how far we have come since the creation of the first microchip. Sixty percent of Americans now own a personal computer or a laptop, and 90 percent of them use the Internet. In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil said 'If the automobile industry had made as much progress as the computer industry in the past fifty years, a car today would cost a hundredth of a cent and go faster than the speed of light.'

Why is this true? Because of Moore's law, yes. But what is the basis of Moore's law? Research and development. The public, private, and non-profit sectors invested in research that reduced the size of the microchip while increasing its speed exponentially. This investment was made because the applications were many and the possibilities endless. After all, microchips are found in cars, pacemakers, watches, sewing machines, and just about every household appliance.

So what are Ray Kurzweil and other world-class economists and scientists going to say about our progress with nanotechnology? That's largely up to you, but the fact that so many of you are here today to discuss one aspect of our national nanotechnology initiative - the DOE centers of excellence - is a clear indication that nanotechnology isn't just a passing fad. It's full of excitement and potential to make our economy grow and our world a better place to live and raise a family.

With all its potential applications, nanotechnology could have an equal if not greater impact than the microchip on our lives - our wealth, our health and safety, our environment, and our security at home and abroad. The DOE centers of excellence will only speed the process by facilitating collaboration among the best scientists that government, industry, and academia have to offer.

That collaboration will ensure the greatest of successes in the field of nanotechnology, and fueling that collaboration will be federal R&D.


So how do we continue to press our case for funding of nanotechnology and other basic science research? Well, as I stated at the outset, it's about national security and competitiveness.

Back in January of 2001 - a little over 2 years ago - the U.S. Commission on National Security, led by a bipartisan team headed by two distinguished former Senators, Gary Hart of Colorado and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, released a report that evaluated the current national security climate, and proposed changes needed to meet new threats. It was a wake-up call, and it sounded its alarm well before the tragedy of 9-11.

The first part of the report focused on securing the national homeland, and rightly so. As the President has said many times, protection of the American people is our top priority. What impressed me most about this report, however, was the second half, which focused on science and education. Never before had the link between science and education and our national security been so clearly established, nor articulated quite as well.

I quote, 'Americans are living off the economic and security benefits of the last three generations' investment in science and education, but we are now consuming capital. Our systems of basic scientific research and education are in serious crisis, while other countries are redoubling their efforts. In the next quarter century, we will likely see ourselves surpassed, and in relative decline, unless we make a conscious national commitment to maintain our edge.'

And what do you suppose the report suggested we should invest our resources in? You guessed it: nanotechnology.

Again I quote, 'The world is entering an era of dramatic progress in bioscience and materials science as well as information technology and scientific instrumentation. Brought together and accelerated by nanoscience, these rapidly developing research fields will transform our understanding of the world and our capacity to manipulate it.'

No pressure on you folks in this room, right?

Unfortunately, the accuracy of the first part of this report was confirmed just eight months later by the events of September 11th, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fortunately, we have a little over 20 years to develop and use nanotechnology to avert the grim scenario painted in the second part of this report. That's not going to be easy. Although the United States remains the export leader in three of the four high-technology industries of pharmaceuticals, computers, communications equipment, and aerospace industry, its lead has been shrinking in all but communications equipment.

This downward trend is, frankly, quite troubling. Not only must we stop losing ground, we must make up for all the ground already lost. How do we do that? One answer that comes to my mind is that we invest more in federal research and development, especially nanoscience, as recommended by the Hart-Rudman report.

The good news is that Congress just successfully completed a 5-year effort to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health. And at the very end of the 107th Congress, President Bush signed into law a bill putting the National Science Foundation on a track to double its budget over the next five years as well.

I supported both efforts, but I'm afraid we're starting to lose our balance, and I'm not alone in this belief.


In a report released at the end of August last year, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or P-CAST, recommended that R&D for the physical sciences and engineering should be brought to parity with the life sciences over the next five budget cycles.

What was P-CAST's rationale? Just a little over thirty years ago, support for the three major areas of research - namely physical and environmental sciences, life sciences, and engineering - was equally balanced. Today, the life sciences receive 48 percent of federal R&D funding compared to the physical sciences' 11 percent and engineering's 15 percent.

The report rightly points out that increased funding for the life sciences does not necessarily indicate an underfunding of the physical sciences.

This may be true, but even a simple imbalance could have long-term implications for both the life and the physical sciences. Already, PhD candidates are choosing life sciences over physical sciences. In 1999, the number of doctorates awarded in science and engineering was the lowest in six years. This has been directly attributed to the availability of funding for research in the life sciences.

This trend does not bode well for either the physical sciences or the life sciences. Why? Well, as the P-CAST report points out, 'It is widely understood and acknowledged that the interdependencies of the various disciplines require that all advance together.'

For instance, many of the tools and much of the equipment used in medicine today are a result of physical science research and engineering. Even Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the NIH, has acknowledged these facts, saying 'Medical advances may seem like wizardry. But pull back the curtain, and sitting at the lever is a high-energy physicist, a combinational chemist, or an engineer.'


This is one of the reasons I introduced legislation in the 107th Congress, and again on the first day of the 108th Congress, to significantly increase funding for the DOE Office of Science, the nation's primary supporter of research in the physical sciences, and the office responsible for DOE's role in the NNI.

H.R. 34, the Energy and Science Research Investment Act, would increase the budget for the Office of Science by 60 percent in 4 years, and that's not spare change.

The bill would also promote the Director of the Office of Science to the Assistant Secretary of Science, and create an Undersecretary for Energy Research and Science.

It is my goal to have these provisions incorporated into a comprehensive energy bill, assuming one moves through Congress this year. I am confident one will, but 'when' is the question.

But to be successful, I need to demonstrate that broad, bipartisan support exists for the funding levels and management changes contained in H.R. 34. That requires as many cosponsors as possible. The bill already has 74 cosponsors, but there are 435 members of the House. This is where you and your colleagues can help. Those of you who work for the federal government must be mindful of the prohibition on lobbying.

But you can write, call, and urge your Representative to cosponsor H.R. 34, and get your colleagues to do the same. Spread the word that a robust nanotechnology R&D program at the DOE requires a robust Office of Science, and that H.R. 34 guarantees both.

In closing, let me just say that all R&D contributes to our national competitiveness, and nanotechnology could bring together and accelerate our progress in bioscience, materials science, information technology, and scientific instrumentation. This, in turn, will reinvigorate our systems of science and education, and keep America at the forefront of technology and an example for the world to follow.

All levels of government, academia, and industry recognize its potential, as well as the benefits of collaborating to realize that potential. Nanotechnology could very well be the catalyst for national competitiveness for the next 50 years. In countless ways, our lives will be the better as a result of our robust and coordinated investment in nanoscience R&D.

Thank you for all you do for the cause of nanoscience, nanotechnology, and national competitiveness. Thank you.

Speech from http://judybiggert.house.gov/News.asp?FormMode=Detail