M.C. Roco, National Science Foundation

This review of U.S. research and development in nanoparticles, nanostructured materials, and nanodevices was held in Rosslyn, Virginia, on May 8-9, 1997, and included experts from industry, universities, and national laboratories. Twelve U.S. funding agencies and national laboratories participated: the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The primary objectives were to highlight major achievements and research programs and to work towards developing better interactions and eventually an interdisciplinary community in the field of nanotechnology (NT). The meeting was coordinated by the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) and NSF.

NT arises from the exploitation of physical, chemical, and biological properties of systems that are intermediate in size between isolated atoms/molecules and bulk materials, where phenomena length scales become comparable to the size of the structure. It is recognized as an emerging technology of the 21st century, along with the already established areas of computer/information technology and biotechnology. NT is now at a level of development comparable to that of computer/information technology in the 1950s. New experimental and simulation tools emerging in the last few years and the discovery of novel phenomena and processes at the "nano" scale have opened revolutionary opportunities for developments in nanoparticles, nanostructured materials, and nanodevices. Nanoparticles, including nano-clusters, -layers, -tubes, and two- and three-dimensional structures in the size range between the dimensions of molecules and 50 nm (or in a broader sense, submicron sizes as a function of materials and targeted phenomena), are seen as tailored precursors for building up functional nanostructures. The precursors' properties may be controlled during such generation processes as aerosol, colloid, plasma, combustion, molecular self-assembly, bioreplication, and chemical/mechanical comminution. These properties may be significantly different from those of corresponding bulk materials, and desirable novel properties may be obtained.

Engineered nanostructures include nanostructured materials such as ceramics, optical materials, polymers, and metals; nanocomponents such as coatings and connectors; and nanodevices such as sensors, switches, and reactors. Application areas include the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, nanoelectronics, space exploration, metallurgy, biotechnology, cosmetics, the food industry, optics, nanomedicine, metrology and measurement, and ultraprecision engineering -- there are practically no unaffected fields. Efficient conversion of energy, materials, and other resources into products of high performance will be a strategic necessity in the next century. There is an evident need to create the infrastructure for science, technology, facilities, and human resources. It is estimated that all U.S. agencies together are spending approximately $115 million per year for NT research. NSF is spending about 60% of the total, and it may be a good place to catalyze a national endeavor in NT.

NT implies direct control of materials and devices on molecular and atomic scales, including fabrication of functional nanostructures with engineered properties, synthesis and processing of nanoparticles, supramolecular chemistry, self-assembly and replication techniques, sintering of nanostructured metallic alloys, use of quantum effects, creation of chemical and biological templates and sensors, surface modification, and films. The purpose is to produce materials and devices that take advantage of physical, chemical, and biological principles whose causes are found in the nanometer scale. New properties are due to size reduction to the point where interaction length scales and physical phenomena become larger than the size of the structure. NT includes development of suitable characterization methods (e.g., scanning probe microscopy, electron holography) and new manufacturing and modification processes (e.g., scanning tunneling microscope lithography, photonic processes). The most revolutionary NT approach is building up from the molecules and nanoparticles, the so-called "bottom-up" (building blocks) approach -- versus the "top-down" (extreme miniaturization) approach.

A main objective of this WTEC study is to identify new research and technological opportunities, unexpected phenomena and processes, and overall paradigm shifts that would help researchers make the right choices in the future. This survey, which covers relevant work in academia, industry, and national labs, is issue-driven and interdisciplinary and includes relevant theories, methods, instruments, and technological processes. The study should help capitalize on emerging opportunities and optimize allocation of R&D funds. The May 8-9 workshop focused on establishing the state of the art and benchmarking U.S. activities.

A consensus was developed at the WTEC workshop for the need for interagency collaboration, and an interagency nanotechnology group has been established. Each participating organization has several areas of interest. Several collaborative research and educational activities on nanoparticles and nanostructured materials have been already developed between NSF, NIST, and ONR. An annual nanotechnology forum has been proposed in order to periodically survey research and educational opportunities and funding programs and to promote interactions between the NT community and funding agencies and between research providers and users.

Scientific and technological discoveries in nanotechnology are growing at an unprecedented rate, and an attempt should be made to capitalize on emerging research opportunities. U.S. nano activities in general are fragmented. The current situation can be improved by promoting joint funding of projects and use of facilities in centers of excellence, collaborations among program managers in various agencies, and interdisciplinary activities (cross-disciplinary workshops, university-industry research groups, and use of other mechanisms to facilitate knowledge and technology transfer). Academic interaction with industry is an obvious priority for the Nanotechnology Group. Preparing an interagency memorandum of understanding has been discussed by a group of funding agencies for promoting joint funding on selected interdisciplinary NT areas and leveraging funding for complementary projects.

There is a gap in student education and training in the mesoscopic range (phenomena specific from approximately 1 to 100 nm), in the interval between the molecular description and macroscopic description. Current educational activities related to NT are isolated, and a plan of action to improve this situation would be appropriate.

International interest in nanotechnology is highlighted by the existence of comprehensive programs in Europe. Examples include the European Union's Phantom program, Nanoparticles in E.S.F., the LINK NT Programme in the U.K., and the Nanotechnology focus at the German Ministry for Research and Education. In Japan, relevant programs include the Science and Technology Agency's Institutes on Ceramics and Metals, two 10-year programs of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and several projects of the Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) program. There are also large efforts in Switzerland, Sweden, France, Russia, China, Taiwan, and Korea. It is hoped that the second part of the WTEC study, the worldwide survey, will encourage international networking and collaborations.

The technical presentations in this proceedings report have been grouped into the following topics: synthesis and assembly; bulk behavior; dispersions and coatings; high-surface-area materials; devices; and biological, carbon, and theory issues. The WTEC panel views this as a working document for future activities. We would like to thank to all participants for their contributions.

Introduction to WTEC Study on
Nanoparticles / Nanostructures / Nanodevices

Nanoparticles / Nanostructures / Nanodevices

[Previous Section][Top of Report][Send Your Comments][WTEC Welcome Page][Next Section]

Published: January 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian