What is the National Nanotechnology Initiative?

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  • Written By: Dana Hinders
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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The National Nanotechnology Initiative is an effort by the United States government to promote developments in nanoscience. A number of federal agencies participate in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, including the Department of Education, Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the International Trade Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The term nanoscience is used to refer to the study of materials with dimensions at the nanoscale ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers (nm). A particle the size of a nanometer is smaller than a single living cell and only visible by using the most powerful microscope on the market today. If you’re having trouble visually something this small, consider that a sheet of paper measures approximately 100,000 nanometers thick.

Nanoscale materials can be found in everything from volcanic ash to sea spray. By duplicating the structure of lotus leaves, scientists specializing in nanotechnology have already managed to create water repellent fabrics for stain-proof clothing. Other developments in progress include carbon nanotubes to protect airplanes from lightening strikes and efforts to replace the steel in new cars with a lighter metal that would result in significant fuel savings.


The federal government believes that nanotechnology’s potential for promoting economic growth should make research and development into nanoscience projects a top priority. Although attempts to coordinate federal research into nanoscience began in 1996, it was not until 2001 that the Clinton administration raised the work to the level of a federal initiative. Previously known as the Interagency Working Group on Nanotechnology (IWGN) under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), nanoscience research became official known as the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) at this time.

The Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee, a component of the NSTC Committee on Technology, is an important part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. This group is composed of senior level representatives from the federal government’s research and development agencies and is responsible for providing policy leadership and budget guidance for the activities that are part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) works to provide administrative and technical support for the members of this group and is the official point of contact for industry, professional societies, academia, foreign organizations, and others with an interest in nanotechnology research.


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