Nanotech Wrapped in Federal Support
Law creates office, gives $3.7 billion over next 4 years
By Jon Van,
Tribune staff reporter
November 27, 2003
In what some call the biggest commitment to technology research in 40
years, President Bush is expected next week to sign a law establishing a
federal office for nanotechnology.
"This is a fair equivalent to the earliest days when NASA was created,"
said F. Mark Modzelewski, executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance,
a trade group.
Funded with $3.7 billion over the next four years, the office is intended
to focus national attention and boost funding for research into studies
that deal with manipulating matter an atom or molecule at a time.
Technology's ultimate miniaturization literally changes all aspects of
matter, including its strength, durability and conductivity.
Creation of the nano initiative will come on the eve of NanoCommerce 2003,
a national meeting to promote nanotech commercialization that opens in
Chicago on Dec. 8. Chicago and the Midwest have been early to jump on the
nanotech bandwagon with research centers established at Northwestern
University, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Illinois and
Purdue University, among others. Local companies such as Nanophase
Technologies Corp., Arryx Inc. and Nanosphere Inc. already have products
on the market and more in the pipeline.
Nanotechnology was named a national priority during the Clinton
administration. Washington has embraced it as the key to promoting
national economic well-being. "Most lawmakers are interested in jobs,"
said Modzelewski. "They see this as having a huge economic impact."
Because the law puts funding on a four-year cycle rather than a
year-to-year basis, it lends the field the stability to attract young
people making decisions about education and career, said Vijaya Vasista,
chief operating officer of Nanosphere, based in Northbrook.
Nanosphere, which has more than 50 employees, is developing equipment that
uses nanoparticles to identify strands of genetic material more quickly
and cheaply than is possible using standard technology. It already sells
products for use by researchers and hopes within a year to market products
for diagnosing illness.
Sean Murdoch, executive director for Chicago-based Atom Works, said when
politicians show an interest, it can raise a technology's profile.
"When Gov. Blagojevich mentioned nanotech in his state-of-the-state
speech, I started getting calls from people I'd never heard from before,"
said Murdoch, whose organization promotes nanotech in Illinois and the
Universities have rushed to include nanotechnology in their programs in
recent years, said Robert Park, public information director of the
American Physical Society and a physics professor at the University of
"The country has to make the bet that this is going to be big. Japan,
China and Europe are making the bet, so we can't afford not to."
As an example of how things change on the nano scale, which refers
to one-billionth of a meter, Park cited a new form of carbon known as
Fibers made of nanotubes are so strong yet lightweight that some
scientists have speculated it might be possible to build an elevator into
space using nanotube fibers. "For such minute fibers to have such strength
is incredible," Park said.
Nanotech research funding had gotten so large that it needed its own
office to coordinate and monitor spending, said Mary Good, a former
undersecretary of technology in the U.S. Commerce Department. She now
chairs the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America.
Modzelewski said there are 1,500 nanotech start-ups worldwide including
1,100 in the United States.
An estimated $1 billion of venture capital has been invested in the past
three years, and this year's investment could total as much as $700
million, he said.
The National Science Foundation estimates that in about 10 years the
worldwide total revenue associated with nanotech could be a trillion
"This is real," Modzelewski said. "The only downside to it would be to
avoid the hype that we saw with the dot-com bubble. People shouldn't
expect too much too fast. This is something that will be rolling thunder
in our economy for a long time, maybe 100 years."
Copyright (c) 2003, Chicago Tribune