CHAPTER 3

REVIEW OF U.S. GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES AND INTERESTS IN NANOTECHNOLOGY

SUMMARY OF PARTICIPATING U.S. GOVERNMENT AGENCIES' ACTIVITIES

M.C. Roco
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
COORDINATOR OF THE INTERAGENCY NANOTECHNOLOGY GROUP

Twelve U.S. government agencies involved in nanotechnology (NT) have provided input to this summary, including 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 Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Their overall combined level of support for NT research is estimated at about $115 million/year for 1997/98. Most of the reported research is in the precompetitive phase. Approximately 25% of the total funding is spent for applied research as part of development projects. Development funds have not been explicitly reported in this survey. The largest single-agency research expenditure is at NSF, about $65 million/year.

Current interest in NT is broad-based, and there are several common themes among all agencies. A main goal has been to obtain synthesis, processing, properties, and characterization of nanostructured materials, including high rate production of nanoparticles for potential industrial use; thermal spray processing and chemistry-based techniques for depositing multifunctional nanostructured coatings; processing of nanoscale powders into bulk structures and coatings; and researching superlattices and buckminsterfullerene. Nanofabrication with particular focus on the electronics industry is another major theme. This includes development of technologies offering improved speed, power density, and functionality beyond that achieved by simply scaling transistors. Other electronics-related research themes include operation at room temperature, use of quantum well electronic devices, and computational nanotechnology addressing physics- and chemistry-related issues in nanofabrication. Research on nanoscale materials for energy applications has had a focus on synthesis and processing of materials with controlled structures, surface passivation, and interface properties. The initially targeted energy-related applications include catalysts and soft magnets. Neural communication technology and biochip technology have been investigated for biochemical applications and sensor development. Metrology activities for thermal and mechanical properties, magnetism, and thermodynamics of nanostructures have been initiated. Nanoprobes to study nanometer material structures and devices with nanometer length and picosecond time resolution have been developed.

Future research will continue the miniaturization efforts by using established methods and principles to make big things small, and it is expected that most relevant industrial applications in the short term will come from this area. In the longer term, the approach of building up from molecules and nanoparticles, nanotubes, and nanolayers is more promising from the points of view of science, likelihood of innovations, and industrial relevance. Future research opportunities include development of an understanding of the physics and chemistry of the new properties and phenomena found at the nanometer scale; engineering of functional nanostructures from molecules and fine particles; establishment of measuring tools with improved sensitivity, time, and spatial resolution; and advances in the theory and in simulation techniques for systems in the range of 1 to 100 nm. Among targeted functional nanostructures are optoelectronic devices, multifunctional (smart, adaptive) coatings and three-dimensional engineered structures, semiconductor nanostructures for multispectral detector arrays, structures generated by chemistry self-assembly techniques, biomimetics, quantum control, and atom manipulation. Nanocomponents are envisaged for microdevices for sensing, information processing, and telemedicine. There will be a continued interest in low power nanoelectronics, miniaturization of spacecraft systems, carbon nanotube technology for producing nanogears and hydrogen storage, improved molecular beam epitaxy, and silicon-germanium-carbon-based devices in order to enable scaled silicon nanoelectronics. The potential of single-electron devices and molecular electronics will be explored.

The balance of this chapter contains brief reports from the participating U.S. government agencies.

Overview of Nanotechnology Research Sponsored by U.S. Agencies

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Published: January 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian