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Posted: March 2, 2008
Nanotechnology goes to D.C.
(Nanowerk News) The Times Union today carries an article on the subject of nanotechnology and Washington lawmakers:
Lawmakers are known for getting down to the nitty gritty. But lately, they've been focusing on the tiniest forms of matter: the subject of nanotechnology.
Roughly two dozen nanotechnology companies and other experts came to Capitol Hill last week to show off their wares and send Congress a message: Nanotechnology is about a whole lot more than computer chips.
Supporters of more federal aid for nanotechnology -- the science and engineering of products on an extremely small scale -- say this is the next industrial frontier. Scientists and entrepreneurs argue that the burgeoning industry needs more federal funding for the United States to stay ahead of global competitors.
U.S. firms already use the small science of nanotechnology to solve big problems, such as how to deliver drugs directly to tumors in the human body and to make affordable solar panels.
For instance, last August, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy said they had created a thin, flexible battery by embedding carbon nanotubes in a sheet of paper.
"It looks like a black sheet of paper," said Robert Linhardt, acting director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at RPI. But, Linhardt said, the paper battery can store power and potentially be placed under someone's skin to power biomechanical devices, such as pacemakers.
Other companies are using nanotechnology to develop products ranging from water-resistant clothing and ultra-light motorcycle brakes to tennis balls that don't lose their bounce and sunblocks that penetrate the skin.
"These are technologies that are all going to be enabled by the nano-revolution," Linhardt said.
The federal government has been spending about $1.5 billion annually on nanotechnology research. That money is funneled to 25 federal agencies and coordinated by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a seven-year-old program to foster research on the molecular level.
At a briefing organized by the congressional High Tech Caucus and the Nanotechnology Caucus, researchers and entrepreneurs said lawmakers should boost spending on the issue and find other ways to foster promising research.
Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Greenport, co-chairwoman of the High Tech Caucus in the House of Representatives, suggested Congress could spur the industry by expanding existing tax credits for research and development. She is mulling whether Congress should create new low-interest loans for nanotechnology ventures -- much like the home loans guaranteed by the government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Gillibrand said some lawmakers -- particularly those who have nanotech firms in their districts -- recognize the importance of the field.
Gillibrand 's district, which encompasses part of the Capital Region, has become a hotbed of nanotechnology research.