Frequently Asked Questions
Courtesy: National Nanotechnology Initiative
1. What is a nanometer?
2. How much money is the U.S. government spending on nanotechnology?
3. How does this spending compare to other countries?
4. Why fund nanotechnology?
5. What products available today have resulted from nanoscience?
6. What products will be available in the next few years?
7. Next 10-20 years?
8. What are engineered nanoparticles?
9. How can I get funding for my research in nanotechnology?
10. How many researchers are working in nanotechnology today?
11. What are future workforce needs?
What is a nanometer?
One-billionth of a meter. For comparison purposes, one inch equals 25 million nanometers. A nanometer-sized particle also is smaller than a living cell and can be seen only with the most powerful microscopes available today.
How much money is the U.S. government spending on nanotechnology?
In the United States, the Federal investment in nanotechnology R&D has increased from $116 million in fiscal year 1997 to a request of $849 million in fiscal year 2004. Private industry is investing at least as much as the government, according to estimates.
How does this spending compare to other countries?
The United States is not the only country to recognize the tremendous economic potential of nanotechnology. While difficult to measure accurately, some have estimated that worldwide government funding has increased to about five times what it was in 1997, exceeding $2 billion in 2002. Asian countries, including Japan, China and Korea, as well as several European countries, have made leadership in nanotechnology national priorities.
Why fund nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology has the potential to profoundly change our economy and to improve our standard of living, in a manner not unlike the impact made by advances over the past two decades by information technology. While commercial products are starting to come to market, some of the major applications for nanotechnology are five to ten years out. Private investors look for shorter-term returns on investment, more in the range of one to three years. Consequently, government support for basic research and development in its early stages is required in order to realize nanotechnology’s full potential and to maintain a competitive position in the worldwide nanotechnology marketplace.
What products available today have resulted from nanoscience?
Numerous products featuring the unique properties of nanoscale materials are available to consumers and industry today. Most computer hard drives, for instance, contain giant magnetoresistance (GMR) heads that, through nano-thin layers of magnetic materials, allow for a significant increase in storage capacity. Other electronic applications include non-volatile magnetic memory, automotive sensors, landmine detectors and solid-state compasses.
Some other current uses that are already in the marketplace include:
• Burn and wound dressings
• Water filtration
• A dental-bonding agent
• Step assists on vans.
• Coatings for easier cleaning glass
• Bumpers and catalytic converters on cars
• Protective and glare-reducing coatings for eyeglasses and cars
• Sunscreens and cosmetics.
• Longer-lasting tennis balls.
• Light-weight, stronger tennis racquets.
• Stain-free clothing and mattresses.
Read more about Products and Applications.
What products will be available in the next few years?
Watch for solar cells in roofing tiles and siding that provide electricity for homes and facilities. The vision of researchers working in this field is a much cleaner environment due to greater use of solar energy (and less burning of fossil fuels) and a higher standard of living for the many parts of the world that do not have access to efficient, reliable energy.
Prototype tires exist today that provide improved skid resistance, reduced abrasion and resulting longer wear, although a date for market introduction has yet to be announced. The nanocomposites being used in tires can be used in other consumer products as well, according to experts, including high performance footwear, exercise equipment, and car parts such as belts, wiper blades and seals.
The pharmaceutical and chemical industries are being affected greatly by nanotechnology, as well. New commercial applications of nanotechnology that are expected within five years in these industries include:
• advanced drug delivery systems, including implantable devices that automatically administer drugs and sense drug levels, and
• medical diagnostic tools, such as cancer tagging mechanisms.
Read about More Products.
Next 10-20 years?
It’s hard to predict what products will move from the laboratory to the marketplace over such a long period, but today’s predictions center on pervasive computing applications. It is believed that nanotechnology will facilitate the production of ever-smaller computers that store vastly greater amounts of information and process data much more quickly than those available today. Computing elements are expected to be so inexpensive that they can be in fabrics (for smoke detection, for instance) and other materials. Read about Moore's Law and continued advances in computing and electronics.
Advances in the field of defense are also expected through work in nanoscience. See the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, which is housed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
What are engineered nanoparticles?
Engineered nanoparticles refers to those that do not occur naturally but are created by people. People have been putting together different materials throughout time, and now are doing so on the nanoscale.
How can I get funding for my research in nanotechnology?
See Funding Opportunities.
How many researchers are working in nanotechnology today?
The current estimate is about 20,000 worldwide.
What are future workforce needs?
The National Science Foundation has estimated that 2 million workers will be needed to support nanotechnology industries worldwide within 15 years.