Writing Policy on the Head of a Pin: Is Nano, Technology?

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Ferguson, Ian
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There have been many instances in the last sixty years where policy has successfully driven both science and the development of technology. These include, for example; President Truman's eventual formation of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950 that had its genesis in a policy document produced by Vannevar Bush, 'Science - The Endless Frontier', and President Kennedy's announcement in 1961 that America "should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." It was clear that after the achievement of the atomic bomb that the politicians wanted to couple into the new successes of science and technology and hence the related policy issues were successfully removed from the people typically driving the work. This has continued to be the trend with the scientist and the engineer suggesting to the politicians and others the future directions for their work and then carefully watching from the side lines to see what is adopted since policy directives typically defined future funding opportunities. One area where this approach has recently been in use has been in the apparent policy driven development of nanotechnology. Starting with a seminal paper by the physicist Richard Feynman, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," and later promoted by Eric Drexler in his book "Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology," a technological vision for the use of nano-scale phenomena was born. This was eventually formalized in the United States in 2000 by Mihail Roco from NSF and others as the National Nanotechnology Initiative that was founded to coordinate what was now broad-based Federal funding of nanotechnology over many government agencies. The paper will review how the policy driven framework for science and technology in the last 60 years has most recently birthed nanotechnology as its latest creation. It will show how a lack of a common vision to bring different disciplines together has allowed nanotechnology to become fragmented and perceived as oversold and the promises of Drexler may never be achieved. In addition, the poor definition for nanotechnology in many unrelated disciplines meant poor metrics for success. This was in part because scientists and engineers were now mature enough to understand that their work had to be packaged within the nanotechnology framework to make it more fundable. Nanotechnology no longer became the proposed manipulation of molecules proposed by Feynman but only the prefix de jour and often with no discreet physical properties associated with this scaling. This paper will also consider if the global packing of nanoscience and nanotechnology in many disconnected areas has led to "nano" generically receiving the blame when the promises are not achieved?
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