The Congressional Research Service, in March of this year, released a report, "Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer", written by John F. Sargent, Jr., a specialist in Science and Technology Policy. The primer’s first section focuses on a review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). A table showing funding from various government agencies and departments for NNI shows that from FY 2006 to FR 2010, the Department of Defense (DOD) has been the largest single source of funding. However, this is about to change. In FY 2011, DOD will fall to 4th place, preceded by the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This shifting of the majority of funding from DOD may reflect a normal path of evolution; DOD has long been a source of funding for new technologies that eventually develop non-military uses. It may also reflect that future DOD budgets will not be as robust as they have been in the last few years.
Noting that "In the longer term, nanotechnology may deliver revolutionary advances with profound economic and societal implications", Part 2 of the CRS report considers briefly area that may be most affected by nanotech:
Detection and treatment technologies for cancer
"Clean, inexpensive, renewable power through energy creation, storage and transmission technologies"
Universal Access to clean water supplies, both in the US and less developed nations: " Nanotechnology water desalination and filtration systems may offer affordable, scalable and portable water filtration systems".
"High density memory devices", improving the performance of computers and other devices.
Improved, more abundant crop yields and nutrition: " Higher crop yields might be achieved using nanoscale sensors that detect the presence of a virus or disease infecting particle . . . . Nanotechnology also offers the potential for improved nutrition. Some companies are exploring the development of nanocapsules that release nutrients targeted at specific parts of the body at specific times".
"Sensors that can warn of minute levels of toxic and pathogens in air, soil, or water."
Remediation of contaminated sites: ". . . nanoscale particles . . . may offer more effective and less costly solution to environmental contamination."
The report also discusses other selected issues, primarily US competitiveness with other nations in the nanotech area, using public and private investment, scientific papers published and cited, and patents issued as measurement parameters. The report notes that while the United States still leads all other nations in these areas, that lead has diminished over the last few years, with Japan, Germany and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) poised to assume the lead. In these areas, the potential loss of US competitiveness is reflected in the debates in the media and Congress over free trade agreements (FTAs) and government policy towards the manufacturing sector and how best to aid it.
The report concludes with brief considerations of (1) environmental, health and safety implications of nanotechnology, (2) nanomanufacturing, and (3) public attitudes toward and understanding or misunderstanding of nanotech issues, noting that public support for nanotech tends to be greatest among those with advanced degrees and higher incomes.