The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recently published "The National Nanotechnology Initiative: Second Assessment and Recommendations of the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel," April 2008. For those interested, The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 requires the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel (NNAP) to review the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) performance every two years. The President prevsiously designated PCAST to serve as the NNAP. PCAST published its first NNI assessment in 2005.
In its second assessment, PCAST states that the NNI is by-in-large a "model program" and is "highly successful," "well organized," and "well managed" — although it also has some specific recommendations for improvement. To improve, PCAST believes NNI should increase its emphasis on (i) public communication and outreach regarding the perceived benefits and risks of nanotechnology; (ii) developing unified standards for nanomaterial identification, characterization, and risk assessment; and (iii) coordinating strategic EHS research which should "include balanced assessments of risks and benefits in the context of specific, real world applications."
Regarding this last issue, PCAST believes the current "approach for addressing EHS research under the NNI is sound," and that "calls for a separate agency or office devoted to nanotechnology EHS research or to set aside a fixed percentage of the budget for EHS research are misguided and may have the unintended consequence of reducing the research on beneficial applications and on risk." Further countering NNI critics, PCAST believes that "while there is much to learn, the process is certainly not broken."
Finally, despite expressing its support for the NNI, PCAST is also "concerned that nanoscience is losing a public relations contest. The value of nanotechnology to the U.S. economy and the contribution of nanotechnology to actually improve EHS conditions in our country and is being drowned out by the emphasis on uncertainties and by speculation that is unconstrained by examination of actual exposure and hazard in realistic use settings."
NNAP also intends to publish an addendum to its report after reviewing NNI’s EHS strategy document published in February 2008.