A wider view of the coming importance of nanotechnology and its place in expanding energy resources and security capabilities was presented by researchers, administrators, and policymakers in a one-day DOE "NanoSummit" session on June 24 in Washington, D.C. Non-DOE researchers from industry and universities found admission valuable enough that they paid to go. Approximately 350 people attended.
Poster displays described the five DOE Office of Science nanoresearch centers — including the joint Sandia/Los Alamos one (CINT, see Lab News, June 11) — and some of the experiments already in progress under their aegis.
"I have an application in for a project to the Center for Integrated Nanotechnology in Albuquerque to work on an idea we have in [nano] materials," said Rafael Aviles, manager of the central analytical support group of Rohm and Haas Company in Spring House, Pa. "This is an opportunity to meet the people involved."
Indeed, he met Labs Director and Sandia President C. Paul Robinson, who presented the session’s luncheon speech, and Terry Michalske, CINT director, and was pleased by his reception. "We have other project ideas as well," Aviles told the Lab News.
Others, like Lloyd Tran, found dealing with DOE labs altogether too slow and cumbersome a process for his small medical products company. "The labs don’t give you exclusive license, either," he said. But he paid to attend because, wearing his other hat as program director of the International Association of Nanotechnology, Inc. in Sacramento, Calif., he was interested in meeting as many people as he could in the nanotechnology field.
DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham opened the day’s talks expressing the hope that "any time researchers anywhere in the world think of [nano-
technology] research, they think of these [Office of Science] centers." He listed areas in which nanotechnology could play an important role, such as new chemical processes for clean energy, lubricants that improve efficiency, and molecular machines that revolutionize solar energy.
Referring to his audience, he said, "Everyone who has the vision today to participate in today’s events will wear a badge of honor 10 years from now; I congratulate you on the commitment you have made."
US Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said, "The biological sciences have been sexy in the past 10 years, but nano will bring the physical sciences back to where they should be. . . . You need to continue to push us [congressional people] to stand with you on this technology we don’t understand that well. Then our children will have a bright future."
John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was introspective. "It’s amazing how uniform the vision of nanoscience is around the world," he said. "The world’s nations are increasingly able to participate in the new world economy, and each country’s ability to produce a technologically competent work force is increasing."
Said Marburger, "It’s remarkable that the same [DOE] labs [whose technologies are helping] to solve the world’s energy problems are investigating the deepest secrets of science." That’s so because, he said, "It’s the limitations of your technologies that define where you can research." The nanotech centers "offer an enhanced value of existing instrumentation and an array of facilities unmatched in the world."
He emphasized the importance of solid state lighting, a major initiative at Sandia and a part of CINT.
"He saw this as one of — if not the most promising — area for implementing nanotechnology," said Terry Michalske, director of CINT.
Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT, one of a select group of approximately 100 researchers worldwide to be a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, mentioned the competitive aspects facing nanotechnology research. Her talk focused on the difficult prospect of achieving a hydrogen-based energy economy. "In the Manhattan Project and in getting a person to the moon, this nation has competed successfully in any number of projects," she said. "But this one has to be commercially competitive. And we need aggressive basic research at the nanoscale to achieve it."
Sandia’s Paul Robinson took a wider view and, in addition to speaking generally about the field, mentioned direct examples from Sandia in which nanotechnology is already impacting lives.
He discussed Sandia’s achievement, via Brian Swartzentruber’s (1114) group, of watching atoms move on a surface in real-time video. He compared the interest in nanotechnology to the childhood excitement of putting together Tinkertoy building blocks, "welding together the physical sciences and biology at the level where biological clusters self-organize, proteins fold at different temperatures, new laws of physics are being written, and chemical properties and the phenomenology of hardness changes."
He mentioned the deployment of Sandia chemical microsensors in several US subway systems and airports, mechanical "sniffers" that detect explosives, and Sandia’s Combustion Research Facility that investigates the processes of fire at the molecular level.
He occasionally leavened his talk with humor.
He mentioned the approving remark of one of the first air travelers subjected to Sandia’s explosives sniffer: "I’d rather be sniffed than snuffed."
Earlier, Paul broke whatever ice might adhere to a defense lab at a non-defense gathering by recounting his mention at a congressional committee hearing of the-then Sandia motto, "Science with the end in mind." A young staffer responded, "You nuclear weapons people! Is that all you can think of?" And so, Paul said, Sandia changed its motto to "Science with the mission in mind."
Pat Dehmer of DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences office emphasized that the nanosummit hadn’t been called by the Office of Science but by the Secretary himself. "There’s a very strong commitment from DOE," she said. "Too little, too late is the history of science, so we’re moving forward aggressively."
Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, said there was "great opportunity to identify problems early" and set up "best practices" for working with nanomaterials. He mentioned health and safety research, and National Science Foundation centers evaluating toxic and carcinogenic potentials in the manufacture of quantum dots and nanotubes.
Nathan Lewis of Caltech in his talk (see a version at http://www.its.caltech.edu/~mmrc/nsl/
Energy_Notes.pdf) and Rick Smalley, a Nobel laureate chemist from Rice University, painted a dim view of mankind’s abilities to produce sufficient energy for its needs unless radical changes in current science technologies and investments were made.
Among Lewis’ criteria for energy salvation is the emergence of a "disruptive technology in solar" aided by improvements in chemical processes.
Smalley backed nanoscience research as a boon in creating more usable energy. He wants energy to be the focus of the five DOE nanotechnology centers, with $200 million a year put into new programs by FY06 to provide incentives to the best researchers to switch to the "Energy Challenge."
"The biggest single challenge for the next few decades," Smalley said, "is producing energy for 10-to-the-tenth-power people." What we need, he said, "is a bold new Apollo program to find the new, [much needed] energy technology."
Approximately 35 students attended the meeting, presenting poster sessions that highlighted student-user research projects.
"The meeting was an excellent opportunity for students to see the importance of the field of nanotechnology, meet with policy makers, and speak directly with the Secretary of Energy," said Terry.