Timely information on scientific and engineering developments occurring in laboratories around the world provides critical input to maintaining the economic and technological strength of the United States. Moreover, sharing this information quickly with other countries can greatly enhance the productivity of scientists and engineers. These are some of the reasons why the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been involved in funding science and technology assessments comparing the United States and foreign countries since the early 1980s. A substantial number of these studies have been conducted by the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) managed by Loyola College through a cooperative agreement with NSF. The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Committee on Technology's Interagency Working Group on NanoScience, Engineering and Technology (CT/IWGN) worked with WTEC to develop the scope of this Nanostucture Science and Technology report in an effort to develop a baseline of understanding for how to strategically make Federal nanoscale R&D investments in the coming years.
The purpose of the NSTC/WTEC activity is to assess R&D efforts in other countries in specific areas of technology, to compare these efforts and their results to U.S. research in the same areas, and to identify opportunities for international collaboration in precompetitive research.
Many U.S. organizations support substantial data gathering and analysis efforts focusing on nations such as Japan. But often the results of these studies are not widely available. At the same time, government and privately sponsored studies that are in the public domain tend to be "input" studies. They enumerate inputs to the research and development process, such as monetary expenditures, personnel data, and facilities, but do not provide an assessment of the quality or quantity of the outputs obtained. Studies of the outputs of the research and development process are more difficult to perform because they require a subjective analysis performed by individuals who are experts in the relevant scientific and technical fields. The NSF staff includes professionals with expertise in a wide range of disciplines. These individuals provide the expertise needed to assemble panels of experts who can perform competent, unbiased reviews of research and development activities. Specific technologies such as telecommunications, biotechnology, and nanotechnology are selected for study by government agencies that have an interest in obtaining the results of an assessment and are able to contribute to its funding. A typical WTEC assessment is sponsored by several agencies.
In the first few years of this activity, most of the studies focused on Japan, reflecting interest in that nation's growing economic prowess. Then, the program was called JTEC (Japanese Technology Evaluation Center). Beginning in 1990, we began to broaden the geographic focus of the studies. As interest in the European Community (now the European Union) grew, we added Europe as an area of study. With the breakup of the former Soviet Union, we began organizing visits to previously restricted research sites opening up there. Most recently, studies have begun to focus also on emerging science and technology capabilities in Asian countries such as the People's Republic of China.
In the past several years, we also have begun to substantially expand our efforts to disseminate information. Attendance at WTEC workshops (in which panels present preliminary findings) has increased, especially industry participation. Representatives of U.S. industry now routinely number 50% or more of the total attendance, with a broad cross-section of government and academic representatives making up the remainder. Publications by WTEC panel members based on our studies have increased, as have the number of presentations by panelists at professional society meetings.
The WTEC program will continue to evolve in response to changing conditions. New global information networks and electronic information management systems provide opportunities to improve both the content and timeliness of WTEC reports. We are now disseminating the results of WTEC studies via the Internet. Over 25 of the most recent WTEC final reports are now available on the World Wide Web (http://itri.loyola.edu) or via anonymous FTP (ftp.wtec.loyola.edu/pub/).
Paul J. Herer
Directorate for Engineering
National Science Foundation