After getting stalled in a Senate committee last summer, H.R. 5940 (the NNI Amendments Act) languished as the failing economy took front page. The only “new” news about the NNI was the relatively dour National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report of December, 2008. Now, in the early days of the 111th Congress, the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009 has been introduced by the House Science and Technology Committee. Will this be smooth sailing for the NNI through Congress?
It’s probably safe to assume that this bill will make through the House in record time – it passed by a comfortable margin last time (407 to 6). And the new bill, H.R. 554appears to be identical to the old one, minus some fiscal year adjustments. The Senate has also had its own version ready for months: S. 3274. So what’s left?
Primarily word-smithing, and ironing out any differences between the two bills, as far as I can tell. Although the NNI originally represented a substantial investment (the 2009 budget originally provided $1.5 billion for the NNI), that once lofty sum pales in comparison to the ever-growing stimulus packet looming on the horizon. Nanotech may just represent the right combination of technological innovation, job stimulus, and rejuvenation to help ease us out of the economic doldrums. But are all the research pieces in place to do this safely? Are the responsible agencies enabled to monitor new products and applications as they arrive on the market? Are there any venture capitalists left to finance innovative manufacturing?
Most importantly: Is there growing awareness within the public(s) about what nano is? Another national study that has not gotten as much press and distribution just appeared within the last week. The National Research Council (NRC) released a highly anticipated report on learning in informal settings, which emphasizes the effectiveness and importance of places like science museums. If you ever doubted that your museum work represents a significant form of science learning, read this report. Do the publics that visit our museums understand nano any better? I don't know, but I'm willing to keep pushing good programs and activities in the hopes that they soon will.