Nanotechnology research directions for societal needs in 2020: summary of international study
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The paper examines the progress made in nanotechnology development since 2000, achievements at ten years, and opportunities in research, education, innovation and societal outcomes by 2020 worldwide.
KeywordsNanoscale science and engineering Research, education and innovation Forecast Governance Societal implications International perspective
Nanotechnology is the control and restructuring of matter at the nanoscale, at the atomic and molecular levels in the size range of about 1–100 nm, in order to create materials, devices, and systems with fundamentally new properties and functions because of their small structure. The 1999 “Nano1” report Nanotechnology Research Directions: Vision for Nanotechnology in the Next Decade described nanotechnology as a broad-based, multidisciplinary field projected to reach mass use by 2020 and offering a new approach to education, innovation, learning, and governance—a field expected to revolutionize many aspects of human life.1 Nanotechnology can profoundly affect the ways the authors live, how healthy the authors are, what the authors produce, how the authors interact and communicate with others, how the authors produce and utilize new forms of energy, and how the authors maintain the environment.
Ten years have passed since that first “Nano1” U.S. National Science and Technology Council report on the prospects for nanotechnology. During this past decade, research and development in nanotechnology has made astonishing progress and has now provided a clearer indication of its potential. This new report (“Nano2”) examines the last decade’s progress in the field and uncovers the opportunities for nanotechnology development in the United States and around the world in the next decade. It summarizes what has been achieved with the investments made since 2000, but more importantly, it describes the expected targets for nanotechnology R&D in the next decade and beyond and how to achieve them in the context of societal needs and other emerging technologies.
The Nano2 report incorporates views of leading experts from academia, industry, and government shared among U.S. representatives and those from over 35 other economies in four forums held between March and July 2010. These began with a brainstorming meeting in Chicago (United States) and included U.S.-multinational workshops in Hamburg, Germany (involving European Union and U.S. representatives); Tokyo, Japan (involving Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and U.S. representatives); and Singapore (involving Singapore, Australia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and U.S. representatives). Participants came from a wide range of disciplines, including the physical and biological sciences, engineering, medicine, social sciences, economics, and philosophy.
Outline of the study
Methods and tools of nanotechnology for investigation, synthesis, and manufacturing
Safe and sustainable development of nanotechnology for responsible and effective management of its potential; this includes environmental, health, and safety (EHS) aspects and support for a sustainable environment in terms of energy, water, food, raw materials, and climate
Nanotechnology applications for advances in biosystems and medicine; information technology; photonics and plasmonics; catalysis; and high-performance materials, devices, and systems
Societal dimensions, including education, investing in physical infrastructure, and governance of nanotechnology for societal benefit
This study is addressed to the academic community, private sector, government agencies, and generally to nanotechnology stakeholders. It aims specifically to provide input for planning of nanotechnology R&D programs to those producing, using, and governing this emerging field. Significant examples of nanotechnology discoveries and achievements since 2000 and the goals to 2020 are listed in Appendix 1, arranged according to the aforementioned four categories. Five figures illustrate several high-impact applications of nanotechnology (in nanosystems, electronics, biomedicine, catalysts and aeronautics) and U.S. infrastructure investments to support progress in nanotechnology as of 2010.
Progress since 2000
The broad consensus of forum participants is of strong progress since 2000 in the following areas.
The viability and societal importance of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology applications have been confirmed, while extreme predictions, both pro and con, have receded. Advancements in scientific foundation and physical infrastructure were inspired by the 1999 unifying definition and vision of “Nano1.”
- Nanotechnology has been recognized as a revolutionary field of science and technology, comparable to the introduction of electricity, biotechnology, and digital information revolutions. Between 2001 and 2008, the numbers of discoveries, inventions, nanotechnology workers, R&D funding programs, and markets all increased by an average annual rate of 25 percent. The worldwide market for products incorporating nanotechnology reached about $254 billion in 2009 (Fig. 1, also see Chapter 13 of the study).
Methods and tools
New instrumentation has allowed femtosecond measurements with atomic precision in domains of engineering relevance. Single-phonon spectroscopy and sub-nanometer measurements of molecular electron densities have been performed. Single-atom and single-molecule characterization methods have emerged that allow researchers to probe the complex and dynamic nature of nanostructures in previously impossible ways (Chapter 2). A tool-kit has been established.
Simulation from basic principles has expanded to assemblies of atoms 100 times larger than in 2000, and “materials by design” can now be done for a few polymeric and other nanostructures (Chapter 1).
Fundamental structure–function studies for nanomaterials have led to the discovery and development of important new phenomena such as plasmonics, negative index of refraction in IR/visible wavelength radiation, Casimir forces, nanofluidics, nanopatterning, teleportation of information between atoms, and biointeractions at the nanoscale. Other nanoscale phenomena are better understood and quantified, such as quantum confinement, polyvalency, and shape anisotropy. Each has become the foundation for new domains in science and engineering.
An illustration is the discovery of spin torque transfer (the ability to switch the magnetization of nanomagnet using a spin polarized current), which has significant implications for memory, logic, sensors, and nano-oscillators. A new class of devices has been enabled, as exemplified by the worldwide competition to develop spin torque transfer random access memory (STT-RAM), which will be fully commercialized in the next decade.
Scanning probe tools for printing one molecule or nanostructure high on surfaces over large areas with sub-50 nm resolution have become reality in research and commercial settings. This has set the stage for developing true “desktop fab” capabilities that allow researchers and companies to rapidly prototype and evaluate nanostructured materials or devices at point of use.
Safe and sustainable development
There is greater recognition of the importance of nanotechnology-related environmental, health, and safety (EHS) issues for the first generation of nanotechnology products, and of ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) issues. Considerable attention is now being paid to building physico-chemical-biological understanding, regulatory challenges for specific nanomaterials, governance methods under conditions of uncertainty and knowledge gaps, risk assessment frameworks, and life cycle analysis based on expert judgment, use of voluntary codes, and incorporation of safety considerations into the design and production stages of new nano-enabled products. Increased attention includes modes of public participation in decision making and overall anticipatory governance with respect to nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology has provided solutions for about half of the new projects on energy conversion, energy storage, and carbon encapsulation in the last decade.
Entirely new families have been discovered of nanostructured and porous materials with very high surface areas, including metal organic frameworks, covalent organic frameworks, and zeolite imidazolate frameworks, for improved hydrogen storage and CO2 separations.
A broad range of polymeric and inorganic nanofibers and their composites for environmental separations (membrane for water and air filtration) and catalytic treatment have been synthesized. Nanocomposite membranes, nanosorbents, and redox-active nanoparticles have been developed for water purification, oil spill cleanup, and environmental remediation.
Toward nanotechnology applications
Many current applications are based upon relatively simple “passive” (steady function) nanostructures used as components to enable or improve products (e.g., nanoparticle-reinforced polymers). However, since 2005, more sophisticated products with “active” nanostructures and devices have been introduced to meet needs not addressed by current technologies (e.g., point-of-care molecular diagnostic tools and life-saving targeted drug therapeutics).
Entirely new classes of materials have been discovered and developed, both scientifically and technologically. These include one-dimensional nanowires and quantum dots of various compositions, polyvalent noble metal nanostructures, graphene, metamaterials, nanowire superlattices, and a wide variety of other particle compositions. A periodic table of nanostructures is emerging, with entries defined by particle composition, size, shape, and surface functionality.
Entirely new concepts have been proved: first quantum device was built and tested in 2010, first artificial cell with synthetic genome was completed, and first hierarchical structures by design have been calculated.
A versatile library has been invented of new nanostructures and surface patterning methods that are fueling the development of the field. These include commercialized systems such as a large variety of nanoparticles, nanolayers, nanostructured polymers, metals, ceramics, and composites, optical and “dip-pen” nanolithography, nanoimprint lithography, and roll-to-roll processes for manufacturing graphene and other nanosheets. This said, nanotechnology is still in a formative phase from the standpoints of characterization methods, the level of empiricism in synthesis and manufacturing, and the development of complex nanosystems. More fundamental R&D is needed to address these limitations.
- New processes and nanostructures have been formulated using basic principles from quantum and surface sciences to molecular bottom-up assembly, and have been combined with semi-empirical, top-down miniaturization methods for integration into products. Nanotechnology has enabled or facilitated novel research in areas such as quantum computing, computing and communication devices (see Fig. 2), nanomedicine, energy conversion and storage, water purification, agriculture and food systems, aspects of synthetic biology, aerospace, geoengineering, and neuromorphic engineering.
- Nanoscale medicine has made significant breakthroughs in the laboratory, advanced rapidly in clinical trials, and made inroads in applications of biocompatible materials, diagnostics, and treatments (see Fig. 3). Advanced therapeutics such as Abraxane are now commercialized and making a significant impact in treating different forms of cancer. The first point-of-care nano-enabled medical diagnostic tools such as the Verigene System are now being used around the world to rapidly diagnose disease. In addition, over 50 cancer-targeting drugs based on nanotechnology are in clinical trial in the United States alone. Nanotechnology solutions are enabling companies such as Pacific Biosciences and Illumina to offer products that are on track to meet the $1000 genome challenge.
- There has been extensive penetration of nanotechnology into several critical industries. Catalysis by engineered nanostructured materials impacts 30–40% of the U.S. oil and chemical industries (see Fig. 4) (Chapter 10 in the study); semiconductors with features under 100 nm constitute over 30% of that market worldwide and 60% of the U.S. market (Chapter on Long View); molecular medicine is a growing field. The state of the art in nanoelectronics has progressed rapidly from microscale devices to the realm of 30 nm and is continuing this trajectory to even smaller feature sizes. These and many other examples show nanotechnology is well on its way to reaching the goal set in 2000 for it to become a “general-purpose technology” with considerable economic impact.
In the United States, the financial investment in nanotechnology R&D has been considerable over the last 10 years. The cumulative U.S. Government funding of nanotechnology now exceeds US$12 billion, placing it among the largest U.S. civilian technology investments since the Apollo Moon-landing program (Nature, Sept. 2010, p. 18). Industry has recognized the importance of nanotechnology and the central role of government in the NNI R&D. The estimated market for products incorporating nanotechnology is about $91 billion in 2009 in the United States (Chapter 13). Finally, approximately 60 countries have adopted nanotechnology research programs, making nanotechnology one of the largest and most competitive research fields globally.
Various activities have led to establishment of an international community of nanotechnology professionals, a sophisticated R&D infrastructure, multidisciplinary formal and informal education programs, and diverse manufacturing capabilities spanning the chemical, electronics, advanced materials, and pharmaceutical industries.
The vision of international collaboration and competition set forth a decade ago, including in multinational organizations, has been realized and has intensified since the first International Dialogue on Responsible Development of Nanotechnology, held in the United States in 2004.
Nanotechnology has become a model for, and an intellectual focus in, addressing societal implications (ELSI) and governance issues of other emerging new technologies.
- Nanotechnology has catalyzed overall efforts in and attracted talent to science and engineering in the last decade worldwide. Key education networks and research user facilities in the United States in 2010 are illustrated in Fig. 5.
Nanotechnology has become a model for informal science education of the public on topics of emerging technologies and for building strategic educational partnerships between researcher institutions and public education institutions that benefit the educational goals of both.
Vision for 2020
Nanotechnology R&D is expected to accelerate the succession of science and innovation breakthroughs toward nanosystems by design, and to lead to many additional and qualitatively new applications by 2020, guided by societal needs. Nanotechnology will be translated from the research labs to consumer use, motivated by responsiveness to societal challenges such as sustainability; energy generation, conservation, storage, and conversion; and improved healthcare that is lower-cost and more accessible. During the first decade, the main driver was scientific discovery accruing from curiosity-driven research. During the next decade, application-driven research will produce new scientific discoveries and economic optimization leading to new technologies and industries. Such translation will benefit society but will require new approaches in accountable, anticipatory, and participatory governance, and real-time technology assessment. Key points of the consensus vision for nanotechnology R&D over the next decade are noted below.
Investment policy and expected outcomes
Major continued investment in basic research in nanotechnology is needed, but additional emphasis in going forward should also be placed on innovation and commercialization, on job creation, and on societal “returns on investment,” with measures to insure safety and public participation. With each new generation of nanotechnology products, there is improved focus on economic and societal outcomes.
The frontiers of nanotechnology research will be transformed in areas such as:
understanding nanoscale phenomena and processes using direct measurements and simulations
the classical/quantum physics transition in nanostructures and devices
multiscale self-assembly of materials from the molecular or nanostructure level upwards
interaction of nanostructures with external fields
complex behavior of large nanosystems
efficient energy harvesting, conversion, and storage with low-cost, benign materials
understanding of biological processes and of bio-physicochemical interactions at the nano-bio interface with abiotic materials
creation of molecules, materials, and complex systems by design from the nanoscale
biologically inspired intelligent physical systems for computing
artificial organs, including the use of fluid networks and nanoscale architectures for tissue regeneration
personalized instruction for K–12 students on nanotechnology in the form of affordable electronic books that incorporate 3D visual imagery/audio/tactile modes of communication to permit self-paced individualized learning
direct control and feedback of prosthetics by external sensing of brain activity and/or by direct coupling into the peripheral nervous system associated with the artificial limb
An innovation ecosystem will be further developed for applications of nanotechnology, including support for multidisciplinary participation, multiple sectors of application, entrepreneurial training, multi-stakeholder-focused research, regional hubs, private-public partnerships, gap funding, and legal and tax incentives.
Nanotechnology will continue its widespread penetration into the economy as a general-purpose technology, which—as with prior technologies such as electricity or computing—is likely to have widespread and far-reaching applications across many sectors. For example, nanoelectronics including nanomagnetics has a pathway to devices (including logic transistors and memory devices) with feature sizes below 10 nm and is opening doors to a whole host of innovations, including replacing electron charge as the sole information carrier. Many other vital industries will experience evolutionary, incremental nanotechnology-based improvements in combination with revolutionary, breakthrough solutions that drive new product innovations.
Nanotechnology is expected to be in widespread use by 2020. There is potential to incorporate nanotechnology-enabled products and services into almost all industrial sectors and medical fields. Resulting benefits will include increased productivity, more sustainable development, and new jobs.
Nanotechnology governance in research, education, manufacturing, and medicine programs will be institutionalized for optimum societal benefits.
Research methods and tools
New theories on nanoscale complexity, tools for direct measurements, simulations from basic principles, and system integration at the nanoscale will accelerate discovery.
Tools for simulation of and physical intervention in cellular processes at the molecular scale will establish scientific bases for health/medical interventions, largely completing the conversion of biology into a quantitative “physico-chemical science” rather than an empirical science.
In situ characterization tools for operating nanodevices will accelerate innovation in electronics and energy sectors, while in situ probes in realistic environments will enable environmental monitoring, food safety, and civil defense.
In-depth understanding of principles and methods of nanotechnology will be a condition of competitiveness in sectors such as advanced materials, information technology devices, catalysts, and pharmaceuticals. Development of precompetitive nanoscale science and engineering platforms will provide the foundation for innovation in diverse industry sectors.
Education and physical infrastructure
Multidisciplinary, horizontal, research-to-application-continuum, and system-application education and training will be integrated by the unifying scientific and engineering goals and through new education and training organizations.
A network of regional hub sites—“Nanotechnology Education Hub Network”—should be established as a sustainable national infrastructure for accelerating nanotechnology education and to implement horizontal, vertical, and integration in educational systems.
Nanotechnology will enable portable devices that will allow individualized learning anywhere and anytime, as well other modalities of learning using techniques such as brain–machine interaction.
It will be important to continue to create and maintain centers and hubs as research and user facilities, as well as test beds for development and maturation of innovative nano-enabled device and system concepts. Remote access capabilities will be significantly expanded.
Safe and sustainable development
A focus on nanotechnology EHS hazards and ELSI concerns must be routinely integrated into mainstream nanotechnology research and production activities to support safer and more equitable progress of existing and future nanotechnology generations.
Simulations of nanoparticle exposure, bio-distribution, and interaction with biological systems will be integrated in risk assessment frameworks, together with life cycle analysis, use of control standards nanomaterials and expert judgments.
Application of nanotechnology will significantly lower costs and make economic solar energy conversion costs by about 2015 in the United States, and water desalinization by 2020–2025, depending on the region. Nanotechnology will continue to provide breakthrough solutions for over 50% of new projects on energy conversion, energy storage, and carbon encapsulation.
By 2020 nanotechnology will have extended the limit of sustainability in water resources by 10 years. The nanostructured membranes and materials with large surface areas discovered in the last decade will be optimized and scaled-up for a variety of applications, including water filtration and desalination, hydrogen storage, and carbon capture.
A library of nanostructures (particles, wire, tubes, sheets, modular assemblies) of various compositions will be developed in industrial-scale quantities.
New applications expected to emerge in the next decade range from very low-cost, long-life, and high-efficiency photovoltaic devices, to affordable high-performance batteries enabling electric cars, to novel computing systems, cognitive technologies, and radical new approaches to diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer.
As nanotechnology grows in a broader context, it will enable creation or advancements in new areas of research such as synthetic biology, cost-effective carbon capture, quantum information systems, neuromorphic engineering, geoengineering using nanoparticles, and other emerging and converging technologies.
Nanotechnology developments in the next decade will allow systematic design and manufacturing of nanotechnology products from basic principles, through a move toward simulation-based design strategies that use an increasing amount of fundamental science in applications-driven R&D, as defined in the Pasteur quadrant (Stokes 1997, Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation, Brookings Institution Press).
Nanotechnology developments will allow increasing the power of computers by about 100,000 times since 2010 and building billion sensor networks by 2020.
Nanomedicine will revolutionize the way the authors diagnose and treat people, and in most cases, substantially lower the cost of health care. Personalized and point-of-use diagnostic systems will be used extensively to quickly determine the health of a patient and his or her ability to be treated with specific therapeutics. On the therapeutic side, nanomaterials will be the key to enabling gene therapies for widespread use and an effective means of dealing with antibiotic resistance and the so-called “superbugs.”
Continue support for fundamental research, education, and physical infrastructure to change the nanoscale science and engineering frontiers using individual, group, center, and network approaches, with particular focus on direct investigative methods, complex behavior at the nanoscale and how nanoscale behavior controls the microscale/macroscale performance of materials and devices.
Promote focused R&D programs, such as “signature initiatives,” “grand challenges,” and other kinds of dedicated funding programs, to support the development of priority tools, manufacturing capabilities in critical R&D areas, and a nanotechnology-adapted innovation ecosystem. Owing to its pervasiveness, nanotechnology will progressively be integrated with the developments in other emerging and converging technologies.
Advance partnerships between industry, academia, NGOs, multiple agencies, and international organizations. Give priority to creation of additional regional “nano-hubs” for R&D, system-oriented academic centers, earlier nanotechnology education, nanomanufacturing, and nanotechnology EHS.
Support precompetitive R&D platforms, system application platforms, private–public consortia, and networks in areas such as health, energy, manufacturing, commercialization, sustainability, and nanotechnology EHS and ELSI. The platforms will ensure a “continuing” link between nanoscale fundamental research and applications, across disciplines and sectors.
Promote global coordination to develop and maintain viable international standards, nomenclatures, databases, and patents and other intellectual property protections. Explore international co-funding mechanisms for these activities. Seek international coordination for nanotechnology EHS activities (such as safety testing and risk assessment and mitigation) and nanotechnology ELSI activities (such as broadening public participation and addressing the gaps between developing and developed countries). An international co-funding mechanism is envisioned for maintaining databases, nomenclature, standards, and patents.
Develop experimental and predictive methods for exposure and toxicity to multiple nanostructured compounds.
Supporthorizontal, vertical, and system integration in nanotechnology education, to create or expand regional centers for learning and research, and to institutionalize nanoscience and nanoengineering educational concepts for K-16 students. Use incentives and competitive methods to harness the energy generated by the students and professors themselves to discover nanotechnology.
Use nanoinformatics and computational science prediction tools to develop a cross-disciplinary, cross-sector information system for nanotechnology materials, devices, tools, and processes.
Explore new strategies for mass dissemination, public awareness, and participation related to nanotechnology R&D, breaking through gender, income, and ethnicity barriers. This is a great challenge in the next 10 years.
Institutionalize—create standing organizations and programs to fund and guide nanotechnology activities—in R&D, education, manufacturing, medicine, EHS, ELSI, and international programs. Important components are the incentive-based, bottom-up programs for research, education, and public participation.
There is a need for continued, focused investment in theory, investigation methods, and innovation at the nanoscale to realize nanomaterials and nanosystems by design for revolutionary new products, because nanotechnology is still in a formative phase. Modeling and simulation methods are essential for nanoscale design and manufacturing processes.
The potential of nanotechnology to support sustainable development in water, energy, minerals, and other resources is higher than realized in the last 10 years; increased R&D focus is needed.
Nanotechnology EHS needs to be addressed on an accelerated path as an integral part of the general physico-chemical-biological research program and as a condition of application of the new technology. Knowledge is needed not only for the first generation, but also for the new generation of active nanostructures and nanosystems.
Besides new emerging areas, more traditional industries may provide opportunities for large-scale application of nanotechnology in areas such as mineral processing, plastics, wood and paper, textiles, agriculture, and food systems.
Multi-stakeholder and public participation in nanotechnology development is essential in order to better address societal dimensions; efforts in this area need to increase.
Public–private partnerships need to be extended in research and education.
Nanotechnology is still in an early phase of development, and fundamental understanding and tools are still in the pipeline of new ideas and innovations. Key research themes have been driven by open discovery in the last decade. In the next decade, nanotechnology R&D is likely to shift its focus to socioeconomic needs–driven governance, with significant consequences for science, investment, and regulatory policies. Likewise, R&D investment will increasingly focus on science and engineering systems—some with complex and large architectures—that have societal relevance.
It will be vital over the next decade to focus on four distinct aspects of progress in nanotechnology: (1) how nanoscale science and engineering can improve understanding of nature, protect life, generate breakthrough discoveries and innovation, predict matter behavior, and build materials and systems by nanoscale design—knowledge progress; (2) how nanotechnology can generate medical and economic value—material progress; (3) how nanotechnology can promote safety in society, sustainable development, and international collaboration—global progress; (4) how responsible governance of nanotechnology can enhance quality of life and social equity—moral progress.
September 30, 2010
Roco, M.C., R.S. Williams, and P. Alivisatos, eds. 1999. Nanotechnology research directions: Vision for nanotechnology R&D in the next decade. Washington, DC: National Science and Technology Council. Also published in 2000 by Springer. Available on http://www.wtec.org/loyola/nano/IWGN.Research.Directions/
The NSF/WTEC international study was completed in collaboration with other panel members and expert contributors: Dawn Bonnell, C. Jeffrey Brinker, Mamadou Diallo, Evelyn Hu, Mark Lundstrom, James Murday, André Nel, Mark Tuominen, Jeffrey Welser and Stuart Wolf. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of NSTC/NSET or NSF.