Richard W. Siegel

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


The field of nanostructure science and technology is a broad and interdisciplinary area of worldwide research and development activity that has been growing explosively in the past few years. While an understanding of the range and nature of functionalities that can be accessed through nanostructuring is just beginning to unfold, its tremendous potential for revolutionizing the ways in which materials and products are created is already clear. It is already having a significant commercial impact, and it will very certainly have a much greater impact in the future.

During the years 1996-98, an eight-person panel under the auspices of the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) conducted a worldwide study of the research and development status and trends in nanoparticles, nanostructured materials, and nanodevices, or more concisely, nanostructure science and technology. The study was commissioned and sponsored by a wide range of U.S. government agencies led by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which included the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Office of Naval Research, Department of Commerce (including the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Technology Administration), Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Additional participating U.S. government agencies for the study were the Army Research Office, Army Research Laboratory, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The uniquely broad sponsor list for this WTEC study mirrors the broadly based interests in and, in fact, the reality of the field of nanostructure science and technology.

The panel study began in 1996, when panel co-chair Prof. Evelyn L. Hu (University of California at Santa Barbara) and I came to Washington to present our thoughts to WTEC and the sponsors on how the study could best be configured and carried out, given the available resources (time, people, and money). After an extensive discussion with sponsors and potential sponsors of the study, we assembled a team of experts for the panel from industry and university, including Dr. Donald M. Cox (Exxon Research and Engineering Company), Dr. Herb Goronkin (Motorola), Prof. Lynn Jelinski (Cornell University during most of this study, now at Louisiana State University), Prof. Carl Koch (North Carolina State University), John Mendel (Eastman Kodak Company), and Prof. David T. Shaw (State University of New York at Buffalo). Two of us on the panel, Prof. Koch and I, although presently in universities, had spent large fractions of our careers at Oak Ridge and Argonne National Laboratories, respectively, lending national laboratory perspectives to the study, as well. Biographical sketches of the panel members and other study participants are included in Appendix A of the present volume.

The purposes of this study, which the panel determined in conjunction with its sponsors, were to assess the current status and future trends internationally in research and development in the broad and rapidly growing area of nanostructure science and technology. The study had the following four goals:

  1. to provide the worldwide science and engineering community with a broadly inclusive and critical view of this field
  2. to identify promising areas for future research and commercial development
  3. to help stimulate development of an interdisciplinary international community of nanostructure researchers
  4. to encourage and identify opportunities for international collaboration

Based on these goals, the panel formulated a number of questions, for which we sought answers during our study:

These questions were posed in advance to the various workshop participants and hosts of our panel visits so that answers could be considered and prepared. In every case, our hosts went to great lengths and considerable efforts to prepare for our visits and to make our study both effective and comfortable. The various activities of the WTEC panel, in addition to considerable reading, thinking, discussing, and writing, included the following:

These activities represent a rather broad base of information for the study from which the panel derived the findings and conclusions that appear in this volume. One must emphasize, however, that even though we visited many places, listened to many presentations, and read much material, there is no way that this study is, or could have been with the available resources, encyclopedic. The field of nanostructure science and technology is simply too large, too geographically dispersed, and changing too rapidly to cover exhaustively. What this volume presents are only examples, the best examples the panel could find, to describe what the field encompasses, its current breath and depth, and where it appears to be heading. The choices of the places that we visited, and even the types of visits, were made from lists and suggestions generated by all the panel members, with useful sponsor input. The final priorities were made according to where we felt the most exciting research and development activities in nanostructure science and technology were going on, overlayed with a realistic evaluation of which sites and how many of them could be logically visited in the time allotted. Unfortunately, this means that panel members on our limited schedule could not visit many interesting institutions and could not accommodate visits to entire countries that make significant contributions to nanostructure science and technology-Australia, Canada, China, Finland, India, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the Ukraine, to name just a few.

The initial public report of the findings of the WTEC study panel was presented in Arlington, Virginia on 10 February 1998. Full site reports from the panel's visits in Europe, Japan, and Taiwan are included as Appendices B to E in this volume. A separate volume covering the U.S. workshop has already been published by WTEC under the title R&D Status and Trends in Nanoparticles, Nanostructured Materials, and Nanodevices in the United States (see bibliography at the end of this chapter). WTEC will soon publish a third volume of this study that consists of papers presented at its workshop in St. Petersburg, Russia.

An introduction to and overview of the study and its conclusions are presented in this chapter, including some of the technical highlights of nanostructure science and technology that the panel observed.

The WTEC panel would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the study participants around the world for their conscientious help and contributions and for their generous hospitality. We would also like to extend our thanks to Dr. Mike Roco of NSF for the wonderful support he has given us throughout the study and for his active participation in many of the visits that we made around the world. In addition, we would like to thank Mr. Geoff Holdridge (WTEC Director) and his staff for their excellent support, without which the study could not have been accomplished.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian