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The Foreign Policy Implications of Nanotechnology

Speakers: Mark Modzelewski, managing director, Lux Research, Inc.; co-founder, NanoBusiness Alliance, and George Atkinson, science and technology adviser to the secretary of state, U.S. Department of State
Presider: Ivan Amato, associate editor, Science News
Introductory Speaker: Nancy E. Roman, vice president and director, Washington Program, Council on Foreign Relations
January 19, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations


Washington, DC

NANCY ROMAN: I thank you all for coming. And our attendance is a little off because of the snow, but I am glad we were able to keep the meeting, and I thank all of you for making a diligent effort to be here. I’m Nancy Roman, director of our Washington program here at the Council. And I hope most of you know by now about our series on science, “The Nexus of Science and Technology and Foreign Policy.” This is something we’ve been working on for several months here, and this is the third part in the series. And I think we’re in store for a treat on the implications and applications of nanotechnology in foreign policy.

But I just want you to know the Council’s really excited and working hard on keeping these conversations going. And we’ve got meetings in store both on the hydrogen economy and also on the foreign policy implications of water, which— I’ve been in touch with [U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-Tenn.] on that. He’s very interested in the subject. But I encourage all of you with ideas to either reach out to me or to [Council Program Assistant] Daniel Karl, who does a lot of work on this for the Council, because I think just having these conversations, thinking about the science angle of subjects that aren’t purely scientific but also embracing very scientific subjects like these, is important. So thank you for being here, and I thank all of you in particular.

IVAN AMATO: OK. Well, I do thank all of you for making it here on [inaudible] let me get this back on [inaudible] all right— for making it here on such a snowy day. I’d like to just get a couple of housekeeping items out of the way before I introduce the session and our two speakers. I guess, unlike a lot of these events, this one is on the record. So I guess that means that you never know where what you say might end up. There are a number of journalists around here— at least one. I mean, I’m one, so you never know where I might put what you say. I would also encourage everybody to turn off your cell phones. We have authority here to rip you into tiny, little nanopieces if your cell phone goes off. That’s a special privilege here at this particular gathering.

The format for today will be sort of two parts. I will engage these two gentlemen, who I will introduce to you in just a moment, in a 20-, 25-minute sort of conversation, during which I hope to bring up some of the issues that are relevant to the— this gathering, which is titled— or this discussion and event, which is titled “Foreign Policy Implications of Nanotechnology.” And I hope, during that discussion, that what we all say will inspire you to form your own questions and to raise those in the second part of this event, which is a Q&A, question and answer. I have the privilege of deciding who gets to actually ask their question. So it’s just a little special thing for me. And when that does happen, and I’ll repeat this— these few instructions at that time— one of the folks here will bring you a microphone, so wait for that to arrive, and then when that is in your hand, you can stand up and state your name and affiliation and then, if you would, try to keep your questions fairly short, so that way many of the questions that will arise will actually be raised, instead of only having a few questions. So with that, let me introduce the session and then the speakers.

Nanotechnology has been touted as the next Industrial Revolution. Right? It’s slated to change everything in our lives. It’s supposed to touch every category of science and technology. It is really an enormous kind of framework. It’s almost a paradigm level type of shift in the course of— the history of science and technology. It often is portrayed and spoken about in those kinds of grandiose terms. I think I read an NSF [National Science Foundation] estimate that there are about 20,000 researchers around the world who now append or at least— whether they are doing nanoscience or not, they do append the prefix “nano” to what they do.

On the domestic R&D [research and development] front, I think there has been a remarkable success story that unfolded here between the mid-90s and late 2003 when the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act was signed into law. I find this stunning, because I remember in the mid-90s the material science community tried to get a similar sort of initiative off the ground. Their argument that materials are the basis of all technology, that ought to be a federal-level initiative— they failed. And yet the nanotechnology champions and lobbyists succeeded wildly in getting this act passed. And it’s an act that calls for $3.7 billion of public money to be spent on the research and development of nanotech, between this year and 2008.

The NSF has estimated that within 10 years a trillion dollars’ worth of product of all kinds will have its basis in nanotechnology. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the $1 trillion figure associated with some kind of business estimate. I found that a stunning number when it came out, and I heard it over and over again. Military planners view nanotech dominance or at least world-class competence in nanotech as an emerging foundation for defense. The champions of nanotechnology are as utopian about this arena as are its— as its challengers are dystopian. And so with so much at stake, apparently, nanotechnology can’t have— can’t not have but extensive foreign policy implications. And so here we are to look into that, into that relationship today. And to do that, we have two speakers.

On my left, Mark Modzelewski. He is a founder and managing director of Lux Research, a New York-based research and advisory firm focusing on the business and economics of nanotechnology. I stole that from [inaudible]. I’m just going to put that there. I stole that from the website. He’s also a founder and former executive director [inaudible]. He is also a founder and former executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance, which was the first trade organization whose mission was to further the interests of the nanotechnology business community. As a journalist, I see him quoted everywhere. I have spoken with him in the past for stories and have quoted him and have invariably found him to be a voice of reason, information, and insight, and I’m sure I will speak to him again for future stories.

On my right is George Atkinson, interestingly, just the second science and technology adviser ever to the secretary of state. I did see on the roster that the first adviser is supposed to be here, but when— there he is. So we have the entire history of advisement to the secretary of state, apparently, here. Dr. Atkinson took on this role for the secretary of state, and who— his boss is about to change, apparently— in 2003. And to do that, he took a leave of absence from the University of Arizona, where he is a professor of both chemistry and optical sciences— I presume a full appointment. And some time ago, his students did vote him as the Outstanding Teacher of the Year at that university, and this never happens to chemists. So I think we must be in here for a treat. And I should say that at the Department of State, I mean, to have this kind of advisory role is new and an important— I think Dr. Atkinson has been bringing in a much larger science presence and voice into that department. And this is at a time when we all know that science and technology is becoming ever more central in both the most local sort of aspect of our lives, in our homes, and, but also in the most macro aspect, and that is sort of international relations and global affairs. So it is, I think, a privilege for all of us to have both of these speakers with us.

I will now move to the first sort of half of this event, which is, I’m going to sit down and have a discussion with these guys, and hopefully we’ll bring up a number of issues that will stimulate you and make you think of questions of your own. And I hope I can keep this on. OK. But I think I want to start out with really the most basic question of all, which is, what is nanotechnology? And before you answer, the reason I ask this is because I have— you know, I have been reporting on this since the late ‘80s, really before nanotechnology entered the public lexicon. I probably have asked the question to 50, 60, 70 people over that period of time, and I have gotten so many different answers to it. A couple of definitions are beginning to shake out, and you’ll see them in a lot of official publications. And I won’t even tell you what that definition is, because we’ll hear a couple of definitions right here. Why don’t we start with Mark?

MARK MODZELEWSKI: Yeah. I think it is actually fundamental to kind of ask the question today and assess this, come up with a definition, which we’ll let Dr. Atkinson probably come fairly close to. Professor Ned Seeman at NYU said that the definition of nanotechnology was what he did in his lab and not what anyone else did in their labs. [Laughter] And that pretty much sums up sort of the debate that happens on it often. What you’re basically talking about, in its most basic sense, without getting into numbers and figures, is— you’re talking about your ability to see, anticipate, and manipulate things at the levels of atoms and molecules. So it’s talking about basically working at the foundations of matter and being able to build things up, for the most part, though there will be an intersection with shrinking things as well.

What we’re trying to tap into is novel properties— for instance, structures like quantum dots, which you can— which by changing basically the shape, you can get different frequencies out of them; different energy comes out of them. You can use this for a variety of structures. So again, think about the fact that throughout history what we’ve built is things down. We chopped down a tree, milled it, made it into wood, and then you built a house. Here we’re working in the opposite way. We’re going to put things together the way we want to sequence them, at [the] level of atoms and molecules, and make structures, theoretically, someday, perfectly. So in a nutshell, I’d say, it’s playing with atoms and molecules. How about that?

AMATO: [Laughter] So is that ditto for you, or do you have some other way of defining it?

ATKINSON: Well, I love the definition. Of course, it was almost correct. It’s what he does in my laboratory, Mark. [Laughter] Mark’s— this definition is a very good one. I would add a couple of additional points. That the ability to construct things from one atom at a time, to manipulate, to stimulate, to control them, is in fact a process which has no end, because the number of molecules, the number of atoms involved are astronomical, literally, beyond astronomical numbers. And so one of the key elements, I think, of nanotechnology is not only the ability to manipulate in the hands of skillful scientists and engineers one or two or three atoms at a time, but the next step is probably the most important one. It is what nature does routinely as we sit here. And that is, self-assemble them. So that as we look for one atom moving to the left, another atom moving to the right, the DNA that can be turned into a knot by manipulation, these are wonderful demonstration of the versatility and virtuosity of the scientific community, but they are really still far away from the practicality of what nanotechnology promises, and nanotechnology has promised a lot.

I’d add a second point, quickly, and that is that in many ways, as was said a moment ago, it is the new properties of the nanoregime that are so mysterious and enticing to us. We know that in the microscopic world, Newtonian mechanics work very well— except in Washington, where taxicab drivers have no traction on their tires, apparently. But the fact of the matter is, in quantum mechanics, as we look at the assembly of molecules that we’ve long found to be at the center of chemistry, particularly, and physics to some extent, there may be yet a third area which will come out of the way in which nanomaterials function, and that is an enticing possibility that says we really still don’t understand how to predict how these particular structures are going to work. And that is why theoreticians, I think, are so intrigued with it, as well as people who work in the practical areas.

MODZELEWSKI: Just one thing on the definition that I think will continue to confuse people when you hear it is that it’s often misused by a lot of people who are, quote-unquote, very smart and in the field. For instance, one of the aspects of the NSF definition says it’s a level below 100 nanometers. Well, you can already do certain things in the semiconductor field at that level, so you have some things like Intel saying “we do nanotechnology.” Intel does not do nanotechnology. No one in the semiconductor field does, and probably won’t for a decade or more. And they’re creating nanocenters and things with the prefix. But the semiconductor industry is— it’s interesting that it’s always the bellwether for tech that if you want to find an industry that’s behind the ball and still on, like, 15-year production cycles, it’s the semiconductor industry, who’s now asking the government to build a nanosemiconductor industry initiative just for them because they don’t want to pay for it.

AMATO: I just want to add to this question just briefly, and then we’ll move into something less basic than the question of what is nanotechnology. It’s sort of a devil’s advocate question, you know. Even as I heard what you were saying about bottom-up construction, I couldn’t help thinking that, well, chemistry, a 200-year-old discipline, is all about working with molecules. Molecules are the archetypal object in our lives that are on the nanoscale. So what is the difference in nanotechnology that makes the difference?

ATKINSON: Well, I personally think that chemists made a tremendous mistake by not coming up with the title “nanochemistry.” [Laughter] Although there is some humor in it, there have been tragic consequences for some of the classic disciplines. So as a chemist, I have to promote the position that it really is chemistry. And I would add to Mark’s comment a moment ago, I’m not sure it’s technology. It’s nanoscience, for sure. Nanotechnology? In this room there are people young enough, I’m sure, who will see nanotechnology, but today it’s mostly nanoscience and those low-hanging aspects of nanoscience that could be turned into some technology advantages. But with regard to chemistry, it is molecular chemistry at its grandest scale. It is what chemists have been doing for hundreds of years. But suddenly the tools— and I put a particular big emphasis on the instrumentation— the tools that allow us to image and to see these directly are quite important.

And if I may add briefly, many of us who have worked in the field of chemistry have long believed we can see individual atoms where we see them through the translation of spectroscopy, things that come with wiggles and bumps on lines on a piece of paper and which we interpret through theories to represent the motions and the positions of atoms and molecules. What nanotechnology has done so beautifully for the public is to provide a video image, an image that you can directly see without all that interface, without all that middle-man interpretation. So in many ways, it attacks the employment prospects for spectroscopists. Spectroscopists suddenly are not needed as much as they used to be, because people believe they can see them. But for a long period of time, instrumentation has given this through spectroscopy; now it gives it through a visual image that we all recognize quickly.

MODZELEWSKI: Just very quickly, I’d just back that up. I think the difference is we’ve stumbled across nanotechnology before, accidentally, carved in black. Some of the photo processes even, if you go to the museum and see those beautiful images of, like, the Civil War, the silver print where you have just this fine look, many of the beliefs is that that was entering the general realm accidentally. The big difference is, since the ‘80s we’ve had the tools to actually know what we’re doing. So I’d say it’s sort of that purposeful aspect, the fact that we very distinctly can know and prove that we’re manipulating them in certain sequences right now that’s changed.

AMATO: I think I can use this point of visualization as a segue to really the next question. I almost get the feeling that the famous 1990 PR [public relations] coup of IBM, where they wrote out in 35 genome atoms their logo, I think that moment— and it was a front-page moment— was when a lot of the public, a lot of the decision-makers and policy-makers and R&D managers said, “This is real.” I think it was sort of at that moment perhaps that the chances of bringing, even, nanotechnology up to a level of a federal R&D initiative, that was perhaps a seed. It was— really was, I think, a seminal moment in the field. It was really strictly a public relations coup because there was nothing very valuable about 35 genome atoms in that configuration.

And what we then found in 2003, about 12, 13 years later, is the signing of this act that I spoke about, this legislative act, which is the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, in which now this country is promising nearly $4 billion of public funds to really push this deal forward. I’d like you to maybe talk to us about why that succeeded, why that effort by the research community worked so well here domestically, and then also tell us if that was a catalyst for the rest of the world and how the rest of the world now is also putting its political and financial backing behind this arena.

MODZELEWSKI: Sure. It was a triggering mechanism. Certainly it set off a race. The good news was the United States was suddenly formally funding nanotechnology. The bad news is everyone else then said, “So are we.” And so right now global spending, when you actually look at federal government spending and regional governments around the world, is probably approaching about $4.6 billion a year. That’s quite a bit of money for a science project. I mean, that’s rivaled only, when you real-dollar it, to the space race. So these are incredible amounts of money that are being spent.

AMATO: And just as a clarification, you are adding together the federal spending but also there are local hot spots—


AMATO: --like in states and other localities.

MODZELEWSKI: Not just in the U.S., either. It’s not just, say, California or New York that are spending. You know, you have different prefectures in Japan. You have different areas in China that are putting nonfederal monies against it. Certainly the Minatec [Center for Innovation in Micro and Nanotechnology] project in France. So I mean, this really did set off sort of a ripple effect for people to do that. The converging forces that did this were to some extent, I think, a need for people that wanted to focus again on materials and to try and get that. I think that was already underlying there.

But I think you also had the factors that came together in the U.S. to trigger it, [which] were a combination of a president that was in his second term and that was looking for legacy building and did very well by the genomics; you had an incredible cheerleader and brilliant visionary in [NSF Senior Adviser for Nanotechnology] Mike Roco, who fought tooth and nail for it here in the United States over at NSF; and I think you had a combination of industry wanting to also feel that they could again work with universities and build up, in that the government paid some of this longer-term R&D, because companies don’t do basic research all that much anymore, except for IBM and a few others. But it did seem like a good idea. And again, that just ripple effect. I mean, this literally is dropping the stone, or the butterfly wing, or any of the analogies we’d like to use happened and created this worldwide race.

AMATO: George?

ATKINSON: I’d agree in principle. I think you might bring a couple of other aspects to it. And they may be more historical, and people in the audience are probably more experienced than I am with this. But if you recall the way the physics community sold its science in the ‘40s and ‘50s and early ‘60s, it was directly related to a national need: in that case, defense. And so I would question whether many in Congress or the executive branch really understood the details of particle physics or some of the other areas of physics that were supported so heavily by public funding in that period of time. In those same time periods, the chemists and biologists struggled on, usually in dark laboratories and universities.

As the ‘70s and ‘80s emerged, you saw much of a revolution in chemistry, and polymers, of course, were somewhat earlier, but you saw a revolution in biochemistry and the beginning of impact on health and the general well-being of the populace. And then I think what happened— and this is all by way of personal speculation, but when you get to nanotechnology, you had an opportunity to package in a very productive and, I think, very candid way many of these smaller sciences in a way that made a lot of sense, and you didn’t have to go through the long descriptions of being a molecular physicist to understand the reasoning.

But I would like to suggest that there is another aspect to it, the second one. In the first cases in the middle part of the 20th century, I think it was associated with defense, with physical defense— the country’s need to have an assurance that it would always be in front of this particular race. In the nanotechnology case, I think there’s an element of being in the forefront of the commercial security, the ability to remain the forefront, the leader in the world in nanotechnology. And by the time you get to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, we really had established ourselves, if you will, instead of Europe, as the leader in technology. If you look at the first part of the 20th century, you see a lot of European science and leadership. At the end of the 20th century, it’s all America, it’s all the United States.

Well, how do you maintain that? You can’t lose focus on the next technology. The thing we did very best was always be out in front of the next technology. Nanotechnology came up at just the right time to get all the political support that you very nicely articulated, and it just took off in a wonderful fashion. Yet it is challenging, and I think will remain to be challenging for all of us, to see if it really comes true in the commercial sense. By putting our position so firmly on the commercial side, we really need to start delivering on the commercial side.

AMATO: OK. I think I’ll move to just one more question in this half of the session here. And you’ve provided again a kind of a nice segue. We’ve heard about how much promise nanotechnology holds for us in every category we can imagine, but there is now a dramatic tension that I think is building up within the community because of experiences with technology arenas like nuclear power and genetically modified organisms and genetically modified foods. Public perception has become a much, much bigger player in the way decisions are made and the way resources are allocated. I was, not so long ago, at a meeting with a number of players, a number of scientists and engineers who were just, you know, grabbing the lapel of an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] official saying, “Give us some idea of where the regulatory environment will be so we know how to proceed.” There’s a lot of ambiguity about how nanomaterials are going to be regulated. Part of this is because there’s a dearth of data about toxicology, the environmental states of these materials which already are making their way into products, and thereby, into our environment. What about these concerns on the health, environmental, and sort of regulatory issues, how would you characterize the way those issues are influencing decision-makers right now?

MODZELEWSKI: As far as decision-makers go, I think you’d have to definitely break that up globally. I think in the U.S., there is certainly an open ear; there’s lessons that have been learned, especially the GMO [genetically modified organisms] debate and things along those lines, and not to be arrogant about it and to certainly have a public dialogue. I think in Europe, there’s a combination of that. And I think their political structure, and to be blunt, the fact that they also seem to be falling behind both Asia and the U.S. in it, that there seems to be a much bigger interest in regulating it to slow things down. And I think in Asia, they’re just plowing ahead in China, Japan, Singapore, otherwise, where there is just really a movement afoot, and sort of lip service to paying attention to it. And again, their political structures probably won’t cause a lot of debate on this.

One of the biggest problems with it, just from a practical standpoint, is that nanotech is really hard to regulate. Carbon nanotubes— you know, a little twist in a carbon nanotube [and] it’s a semiconductor, twist it again, it fully conducts. It’s very difficult. The materials do nothing at one minor-size regime; completely react differently— react completely differently when you put it together with another one. So to actually regulate it and to have this spectrum of we’re going to stop this category or that category is pretty much impossible. It’s just beyond our means.

So the summation of it, it’s almost impossible to regulate. People want to be conscious of it. I have no idea where it will ultimately go. My guess is that Europe will create a pretty big crackdown, like they did on GMOs, as they continue to lag. And the U.S. will pretty much ignore them. And think tanks will put out a lot of papers and professors will put out a lot of papers. And that Asia will not respond, really, and just wait for us to do the paperwork and will backfill in. That’s my cynical view of what will happen. [Laughter]

AMATO: Can you get more cynical than that, or [laughter]--

ATKINSON: Well, I’m impressed. [Laughter]

MODZELEWSKI: I studied international law as an undergrad, so [laughter]--

ATKINSON: I think your analysis is fundamentally correct. We, a few moments ago, were asked to define nanotechnology, and probably came up with the 87th and 88th version of what you’ve heard. So if you can’t even begin with a definition, it’s fairly difficult. But clearly, we have to do this. And I think it is a connector, it’s an interface to the point with regard to the last point— question I answered; if you can’t regulate it and you cannot provide standards and codes for manufacturing, if you can’t have an ISO [international organization for standardization] standard, how will you commercially take advantage of it? Now, we will do that. I’m sure that your analysis of the global political division on this are exactly correct. I think Asia will not be too concerned, just based on their own mores. But the fact of the matter is, that’s going to be a very big challenge for us. Who will be tempted to not compete in that marketplace, with or without the right regulations, EPA involved or not. So that’s a big challenge.

And if you now project that into the more current debates on pharmaceuticals— because I personally believe one of the great applications, one of the truly great applications of nano will be in bio, will be in the bio areas. Why? Because we all are concerned about this. We all have family members, we have our own health. Substantial values in that area will make big differences in society. It also harkens back to the GMO debate. The Europeans had a very difficult time understanding why their cereal should be different with Bt corn [genetically modified with the Bt delta endotoxin protein]. I don’t think they would have had nearly as much difficulty understanding why their pharmaceuticals, with particular health benefits, could not have been used in the context of genetically modified material. But there was no cross-benefit ratio that was identified.

So, coming back to your question, we have an interesting conundrum. We’ve sold nanotechnology on its potential value for commercial economic benefit. But by nature, by the fundamental nature of nanomaterials and now structures, they’re difficult to define, they’re difficult to regulate, they’re difficult to determine when you have a violation or a compatibility with the regulations. So we have a lot of work to do in front of us. And I think it’s an area, as Mark very nicely said, of enormous importance.

Now, can you enforce these regulations? It’s going to be an interesting ride to see if you can do it. In the meantime, the temptation of taking advantages of those areas where nanotechnology, especially in fields like biotechnology, biochemistry, have demonstrable benefit, it’s going to be awfully difficult. People are going to want to try it out and see what happens. I’m not being pessimistic, I’m only being modestly cynical. I’m just saying the challenges are enormous, and it is one that should be addressed as soon as possible.

MODZELEWSKI: I’d just add to it. The first two areas we’re really going to have nano- [inaudible] is the continuation [of] materials field that we already deal with, and already deal with a lot of, frankly, small stuff in the production process. So again, in a lot of this you’re dealing with manufacturing and labor conditions, not the final product as it gets to someone. The same pretty much with electronics. You’re going to get into a very different regime when you start sticking it a lot in people’s bodies and start developing structures that are integrated into a device that is clearly macro— or a micro device. You know, when you’re using a quantum dot that’s integrated— or I’ll use a different one. If you use molecules for memory and it’s integrated into the same hardware and it looks just like the cell phone you bought, the only people who are at a potentially point of danger were the people who were probably at the assembly plant. So there you clearly have a way that we can probably regulate and deal with it from a health and safety standard. If you bust it up with a hammer, it’s not going to suddenly break loose and turn into something, or anything like that.

But again, when you start to get into these issues where we start really fundamentally playing with the structures, especially when we start using them in the body, when we start converging different technologies together— one of the reports came out of NSF and it’s come out of foreign labs as well, has been this enhancing human performance concept— then you’re really going to get into an area that will particularly be dicey. But the— I guess what I’d say is the good news there, is that probably the slowest area to develop, that’s going to 15, 20, 30 years out. So the things that we deal with right now, we really have to worry about labor conditions probably more than anything.

AMATO: Right. I mean, the first products coming out are things like car bumpers and stain-free fabric.


AMATO: So I don’t think those are quite as controversial. I think it’s already beyond the point where we need to move to the questions and answers. And I will open it to the floor in just a moment, but I do want to give each of these gentlemen an opportunity to ask each other a question, if they happen to have one. And if not, that’s OK, and we’ll move— we’ll open it to the floor.

MODZELEWSKI: I’ll— at least in my case, if I come up with one when people are asking another one, I’ll throw it out! [Laughter]

ATKINSON: I agree.

AMATO: So they don’t want to ask each other hard questions. Well, I hope you want to ask them both difficult questions. So raise your hand and I’ll point. And remember a couple of things; someone will bring you a microphone. Please stand, state your name and affiliation. And try to keep your question short and pretty much on topic. I see a man way in the back in my line here.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, Richard Bissell with the National Academy of Sciences. George stimulated me with a comment that he made, which was that a fundamental thrust here was in a global commercial competition that the United States needed to be ahead of the competitors in our nanosciene, presumably. Now, we have a long history of benchmarking technology between countries, but we don’t have so much of a history of benchmarking sciences. How do we know where other countries are in their nanoscience? Is the field— I mean, if you go back to high-energy physics, you’d know where a linear accelerator was. Do we have the equivalent in nanotechnology? Can we track it through the public sector, or is it still well embedded in the private sector, that it’s happening in some small warehouse in South Bronx? I mean, how do you get some comfort in knowing when, as a government decision-maker, our nanoscience is ahead of everybody else?

ATKINSON: I think it’s an absolutely superb question. I think as Rich knows, we’re trying to address this from a different point of view. So two personal opinions. First of all, I think that the benchmarking is a human factor, period. It’s unlike the areas of nuclear fusion or particle physics, there are no big facilities here. These are bench-top instruments that you can buy and transport around the world. So I think in nanotechnology particularly, it heralds a new day. Maybe it begins the kind of hallmark of the 21st century in terms of much science; you do it in small laboratories, as you said— individuals. So learning about what people are doing is coming from primarily asking them, I believe, what they use to define their careers. How do they define their careers? What’s the next generation doing? If you combine that with the acceleration of which this field is moving, you have no choice but to talk to the graduate students, post-docs, assistant professors, young people in research laboratories around the world, and I think you do it by simply allowing them to communicate. Now, I’m not being idealistic here. I think we have put a much bigger emphasis on communicating what our interests are and our shared directions are as well.

The second point about the commercialization, Rich, [it] is fundamental, it’s a big concern to me. I question— I put the question out to you: Do we need every wise nanotechnologist working here in the United States? I think my answer would be no. In fact, I think the shift will be the creation of what I might call regional security areas, or areas of excellence outside the United States, which are partnered or mentored— maybe originally mentored and eventually partnered with American centers of excellence.

Now, for 50 years, American universities have been educating some of the best and brightest in the world, and many of them have gone home. And we should be very, very congratulatory to ourselves for having done what I think is the right thing to do. But 50 years later, the 21st century, we have a new landscape, a new educational landscape. There are many centers in the world who are very competitive with U.S. laboratories, and you named some of them. Singapore is a great example, China, so forth. So I don’t know if we ever had the option that we used to have 50 years ago of saying everyone should be here and all centers should be somewhere in a— with a zip code in the United States. Today I think we have to reach out in a very self-interested way, if you will, to find partners who are going to be literally partners to us, strong partners to us. And that’s part of the answer with regard to your question on how to create a non-commercial-centered program. It may not be particularly well viewed by the commercial sense. I would mention that to— leave it to Mark to comment, but I think we have very little choice in the years ahead.

MODZELEWSKI: I think ultimately, just to go to that question, is an interesting thing that happened, especially that got domestic politicians— not just U.S. domestic, but everywhere— interested in nanotechnology was the fact that unlike a lot of past technologies that we’ve seen in the past 50 years— and when he was talking earlier about when the U.S.--Europe kind of gave up leadership to some extent and the U.S. took over— everyone kind of got out of the box at the same time in Asia— you know, quantum dots were discovered in Russia in the ‘70s, you know, and a lot of these structures spread around the world. So the sense that there was competition or an ability for people to compete, and that fueled this interest that we’re at a somewhat level playing field, at least at a corporate and domestic politicians trying to bring jobs, money, et cetera to where they are. That kind of fueled a lot of this.

But my cynical answer as to how do we benchmark it would be, well, you pay consulting firms like the one that I’m at to do it, because that’s what we [laughter]--we end up ultimately doing for people and we invent benchmarks along the way. But I mean, ultimately, what we’re looking at, just to show you the raw figures, is it is very different because there are international benchmarks like everyone needs to get to this point at this time. Instead, what we’re doing is looking instead of budgets, what are areas that more and more people are focusing on. You’re laying out a very loose road map as opposed to, you know, who’s closer to getting a satellite into space first? You know, they’re at this stage or at this stage. Or who can develop this at this rate? It’s very different. It’s a lot looser, and a lot of that is because corporations are globalized. And you know, GE [General Electric] is doing research in nanotechnology up in Niskayuna, New York, and they’re doing it in China. And IBM’s Swiss lab is doing it at a faster clip than their labs in the valley right now in some areas, and their lab in Port Washington, New York. So a lot of it has been dispersed because of that, and it’s not as straightforward a race as it’s, you know, the capitalists versus the commies kind of dynamic that everyone looks for. But still putting it in those dynamics certainly helps, again, many domestic political and corporate leaders kind of get energized.

AMATO: OK, let’s get another question.

ATKINSON: If I may quickly add just one point, quickly. The quantum dots were discovered in Russia not in a research laboratory; they were discovered, if I am correct, by a group of guys who were in a basic research laboratory with not a lot to do and they couldn’t figure out what the result would have meant, right? And that’s really, truly basic research.

AMATO: This gentleman right here.

QUESTIONER: Chan Lieu from the London Council. Does it make any sense to consider any kind of international agreements at this stage, before this is all developed? You mentioned a few things that people have been worried about and we hope don’t turn out to be real threats and real problems from this technology. And would it not be easier to just agree in principle amongst the world, if you will, that those things will not be permitted and that governments will keep that from happening? There’s a rough analogy in the Biological Weapons Convention, which doesn’t really define them very well but says we won’t have any of those. And now you can argue about whether that’s done as much good or not, and whether you should change that, but in your view, is this the time to think about those kinds of things? Even though we don’t have the technology yet defined, we know conceptually. You know, we can all read [former Sun Microsystems Chief Scientist] Bill Joy’s stuff and things like that. We know conceptually what some people think might be the worst cases, and would it be possible before anybody has those technologies to just say we in the world community won’t allow those to be developed or commercialized and they will be controlled?

MODZELEWSKI: I’d say, again, we could probably do it, but it wouldn’t really mean anything at this stage because of how early it is. And again, you take a structure, again, carbon nanotubes, which some people want to put in cosmetics, some people want to use in weaponry, some people want to use in electronics. And right now, we’re at such a basic stage with the structures right now it would be sort of like saying, well, steel on the one hand is used, you know— it’s used right here in the nails in this chair and it’s used in the framework in this building, and people are using it in cars and all that’s great, and then somebody else is putting it into molds to make a barrel of a gun. And it’s very hard to wrap around and figure out how to control a usage of it right now because people are still just playing with it at such an early stage. So it’s not that I’d like to write off the concept that you’ve put out there as a theoretical framework, but your ability to create mischief at this level is far too hard to control or keep track of. And until we find a way to get it to that point, I’d say that we have a lot more to worry about with, you know, chemical weapons, people doing things with, you know, mixing— and other forms of chemistry that’s already available to us than— we could probably conceive this, but [Dr. Atkinson], you may completely differ.

ATKINSON: Well, basically correct. I certainly agree. But I’d have to give you a different model than the one you gave me. The bio-weapons is looking backward. The agreement came about because we looked in hindsight and saw the danger of what we had. Maybe it would be worth considering, along the lines of your suggestion, a forward-looking model which says let us find those alliances based on research skills. Maybe one might call it a global research agenda or a bilateral research agenda, which does attack the point from looking forward. And then at least you have the framework. If you don’t have the restrictive capability of saying you can’t do it, at least you’re informed about what is going on and what the agenda looks like. You can help shape the agenda.

And again, I think you’re extremely reliant on the next generation. Professors always tell their students to do something and the students usually do what they want to, all right, as long as it’s included in the grant funding. And it is really the acceleration of these— OK, maybe not— it’s the acceleration of this, you know, that really begins to make me worry about putting a restrictive hindsight framework around it. By the time you would negotiate— unless perhaps you’d like to come to the State Department and help speed up this process— by the time you negotiate anything, it’s long gone.

I would suggest that, along the lines of your concern, we think about creating alliances/partnerships with those parts of the global community who have a specialized interest. It is certainly true that the Japanese are very interested in sensor technology. They’re probably the best at it in the world today. But in Singapore, it’s new applications in bio. These are partnerships that could be defined and we could engage early, therefore be prepared to deal with these issues as they arise. But it doesn’t mean it’s iron-clad; it’s certainly anything— far from it. But it maybe is better than waiting for the problem to appear.

AMATO: OK, I’ll just add one thing to this point. You can find that there are certain groups within the overall nanotechnology community that, in a sense, have sort of thrown up, you know, rough drafts of the kind of almost sort of ethical frameworks that you might put around this R&D. Almost like, you know, [Russian biochemist Isaac] Azimov’s laws of robotic research, you know; how are you going to keep robots from harming human beings? Whether these things have any value or not or what kind of cynical or non-cynical view you want to take of them, they’re kind of interesting in just sort of throwing out the kinds of restrictions or, you know, ethical frameworks you might want to put around this R&D to try to at least increase the likelihood that the good that comes out of it all outweighs some of the difficulty that I think that could potentially come out of it if you read things like, you know, [author Michael] Crichton’s “Prey” and if you see movies— bring your teenage kids to movies like “Agent Cody Banks,” which is but a nanotechnology horror story. OK, one more. At least a few more questions, I think. Yes, this gentleman right here turning around, wondering who I’m pointing to. [Laughter]

QUESTIONER: This is not so much a question, but a comment. Both Mark and George raised the— or made the analogy with GM [genetically modified] crops. And the issue is that when we consider some of the regulatory issues and some of the safety issues surrounding nanotechnology, perhaps the Europeans will be the conservative group. And I think that it is a bit of a mistake to compare it to GM crops because GM crops are something quite special for the Europeans. And the Europeans have shown that they can— and I know I have a European accent, but I’m very anti-European. [Laughter] I mean, they have shown they are capable of making science-based, rational decisions. I mean, if you look at the whaling and the limits on whaling captures, I mean, they’ve been very rational about this.

They’ve been quite irrational when it comes to GM crops, and there are two very specific reasons. Firstly, when GM crops came up, they were touted as crops that could increase yield. Now the Europeans have a huge problem with yield in their agriculture. Mainly, they have too much, and they have these huge agricultural subsidies to convince people to grow less. And their view of increasing yield is it means their agricultural subsides is going to go up. And so they weren’t really interested in GM crops for that reason. I think it was primarily not a science [inaudible] orders of magnitude bigger than the average European [inaudible].

AMATO: Can I ask you actually to speed it up a little bit?


AMATO: There are a few other questions. I want to [inaudible] we get to them.

QUESTIONER: And so I would be a little more optimistic. I think that when we look at nanotechnology, I don’t expect that we’re going to get an overwhelming conservative reaction from the Europeans that we’ve gotten with GM crops, and they will be a major competitor.

MODZELEWSKI: The only thing I’d say in response to that is it’s probably— a lot of it has to do— we have the same enemies. We’ll have the same groups that lined up against GMOs found such success, and many of which were interested in economic issues, interested in creating a civil society and things along those lines using science really as their weapon to get that across, feel that there is a framework in place for them to commit the same acts, to bring down a new regime that the big GEs and others of the world are trying to inflict on the world. So again, I don’t think it so much will be a science issue. I’m worried more about the emotional issue and the economic issues that might slip out, that might bring Europe to the fore again on this one.

AMATO: This gentleman here has been waiting a long time.

QUESTIONER: I’m Paul Cough of EPA here in the U.S. My question is— among other things, I manage EPA’s work on international trade agreements. And in that context, in terms of U.S. commercial interests, do you think it’s in our interest— should we try to develop compatible regulatory frameworks across the main trading blocs?



MODZELEWSKI: I think a lot of that— I think a lot of it’ll happen very differently. I’m not sure if it’s going to necessarily be government, but I think when you look at the areas nano is going to go into, when you look at it in the sense of— let’s say— again, let’s use semiconductors. What you really have is an international regime via Semitec that is putting together standards, et cetera. And there’s probably going to be a way to piggyback on a lot of these road maps that are being put in place. The chemical industry has a nano-road map— a 2020 road map, as they call it. And a lot of other industries— even the auto industry is looking at doing similar things of how to utilize nanomaterials, nanostructures, et cetera. I think piggybacking on all of these frameworks are going to create de facto regimes that will be easier to, if nothing else, contain and monitor the growth and deployment of nano. Again, at a government level— again, I’d see it more as a piggybacking effect, or at least keeping a close eye, than probably having to rush to the fore and try to negotiate these various compacts along these lines right now.

ATKINSON: I wish I could disagree with Mark more to create more controversy, but I mostly agree. But I would point to two quick things. When you look at these industrial conditions, and certainly [former Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. secretary of state] Norm Neureiter, who’s here, has vast experience in the semiconductor industry, and I have some. I would say that’s certainly a very important part. We should look for standards and so forth. It will be beneficial.

But I think it also misses a major problem in that as important as it is for my retirement that you’re right, I think the big impact is the surprise, and the big surprise I would look into bio-applications. It is in those areas which I think you’ll get the disruptive change. It’s not going to be the incremental change that allows the industries to simply go from the road map that we— I actually worked on 20 years ago— that says Moore’s Law is going to continually be available and so forth, and there’s just another way of doing it, and we need new ultraviolet lasers and X-ray lasers to do lithography. And these are things that are well worked out. I think what nano represents is this wonderful and potentially vulnerable— vulnerability-creating situation where you get a disruptive change. And self-assembly is one I mentioned earlier. Self-assembly would make an enormous impact in the way biochemistry is done. It would be an imitation of life processes in a way that we have never seen before. And so on many ways, regulation, of course, is important, it’s critical, but I wouldn’t look to that to containing the problem. We have to think more creatively.

MODZELEWSKI: I think also the intersection of— one thing that we touched on a little bit is the converging— being able to work at this level allows you to bring disciplines together, like biology, life sciences, electronics, et cetera. Just as a quick example to wrap your head around: there’s a professor at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] who won, actually, the MacArthur Grant, I believe, this time around, Angie Belcher, who basically uses virus— she uses, like, botulism to actually lay down [inaudible] to make semiconductors. So think of a semiconductor as being a petri dish of basically bacteria and viruses as being the future of that.

Where does that break loose? When do you have them assembled to make their own heart-monitoring or sensoring system within the body? Again, you’re seeing regimes of how we look at science and where clear walls are really breaking down, because we can now play at this level and open up, you know, by some people’s account, like, God’s toolbox.

ATKINSON: One thing you don’t have to do is build a $3 billion fab anywhere.

AMATO: I think we have time for about one or two more. I’m going to him, and then you.

QUESTIONER: Gordon Lederman from the U.S. Senate. Thanks for a very interesting presentation. Two quick questions. The first is, the topic of the seminar is on the foreign policy implications of nanotechnology. The discussion has focused on the sort of the trade regimes, economics, development, et cetera. What about from a capabilities perspective? Are there capabilities for foreign policy-making that nanotechnology brings, or are there other ways to approach just the central question of the foreign policy implications of nanotechnology? That’s the first question.

The second is: In the development of nanotechnology, are there certain values that need— leaving aside government regulation— are there certain values that need to be embedded in the development of nanotechnology, I don’t know, [such as] privacy, security; I mean, who knows what? So that we don’t get to the point in 20 years from now where we look back and say, “Oh, we wish we had built in to this technology 20 years ago these other values or considerations?” Thanks.

ATKINSON: I’d like to take a crack at that. And since I knew this was on the record, I actually wrote down some points so I wouldn’t say some other things. [Laughter] And I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about it, but I think this is an opportunity to address your question in a very comprehensive way. One could make a case that the status of the United States as a superpower in the 21st century has much to do with our ability and investment in science and technology during the second half of the 20th century— the wisdom and forethought of what we did. So there’s some lessons from that that are probably worthwhile thinking about, to answer your question about foreign policy.

One of them is that the American community of scientists and technologists is largely international. And you only have to look at the percentages of graduate students today who are from foreign national environments, who are here as foreign students officially. That’s a very big foreign policy question. How do we make sure we preserve that type of skill and skill base within the United States? I mentioned partnerships. I think maybe, to a certain extent, not having— had them all come here is a value.

But the second point is that we have now very— I think in this— in these contemporary times, seen that countries able to flourish or the type of lifestyle they would [inaudible] available to them is almost exclusively determined by what technology is available to them and their expertise in science, their ability to assimilate it, use it. And so both of those, when you now substitute nanotechnology for science, if you care to do that— there’s lots of science— that if you choose to focus on that, then I think nanotechnology is a microcosm of the problem. What are the mores that you’re transgressing? What are the institutions that will be changed by the ability to have access to this technology? So if you can do some of these marvelous things we just talked about— there’s a commercial example that was just discussed, building semiconductors; bio-electronics, which is an example of what was just mentioned, the ability to do electronics and biological materials— tremendous— infectious diseases, and on and on, which is— there is not time to articulate each one. So it is not as if this is another advancement from the early part of the 20th century. I keep going back historically here. It is a brand new opportunity, because nanotechnology is one of those areas which really attack the ethical questions of our day. So it is a big deal. It’s more than just funding.

AMATO: I’m told by the Council that they take great pride in finishing these on time. There was one more question. Can we do one more, or are we going to— it is now officially over. So let’s take one last question. And then perhaps— is there room to take some of this outside afterwards or— OK, so we’ll take one more question here and then hopefully we’ll want to mingle and speak more about this.

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible] Norman Neureiter at AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science]. You who follow the commercial side of this thing, is there a— does anyone ascribe a billings number to this? What’s the total market right now for nanotechnology products? And do you talk about one, and where do you see that going? You started at the beginning by saying it’s going to be a trillion dollar market in 10 years or 20 years.

MODZELEWSKI: We actually came up with a different number that was higher than that actually, even. But right now it’s basically the sale of products, the development of products where nano has— being able to work at the nanoscale has transformed its value. And when you ascribe that, we’re estimating that in 10 years it will be about $2.6 trillion will be affected. But that’s the whole price of the semiconductor, not the nano that triggered it. But these are products that will— if you look at the value chain as it’s fundamentally transformed, it will be about $2.6 trillion in 10 years from an extensive survey that we did over the course of about six months with industry leaders around the world.

Right now it’s already in the billions. But again, a lot of these things are sort of the next step that we’re already having in a lot of material sciences— like you’re able to, you know, make at the same price strike point that GM needed for a minivan panel— you know, basically a composite panel— they were basically able for the same price to get different attributes in it that they wanted— like the sun wouldn’t fade it as quickly and it would be just as strong and they could make it cheaper. And so a lot of these things were just next logical steps. These weren’t big paradigm shifts.

And when you’re talking about paradigm shifts, those are starting to trickle in already as well. We are— right now there’s a company called Zetacore that’s funded and has a working product that can be lifted off a fab that uses molecules for memory, for computer memory. I mean, that’s a dramatic change of how we view it as a structure for memory. So some of these ah-ha [sic] developments are starting to happen. A lot of times what it is, is things that we always wanted to make, we’re now being able to make— a flexible photovoltaic. We now have working— the U.S. Army buys them— flexible photovoltaics that are literally a sheet of plastic; that’s a solar cell. And we couldn’t make them until we figured out how to work at this scale. So those are the things that are happening.

We’re not very good at nanotechnology yet, just to be blunt, and we’re a long way from being good at it. So ascribing value to it is sort of— is more how it’s worming its way and being parasitic in the value chain than it’s sort of transforming it right now.

AMATO: OK, well, I think I’d like to close this more formal or casual-formal part of the session here; perhaps we can move it out. I want to thank everybody for coming. Perhaps we can show some appreciation for our two speakers. [Applause]






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