Nobel Laureate Urges Congress To Fund Nanotech Energy Research

By Doug Brown
Small Times Correspondent


WASHINGTON, July 25, 2002 – Nanotechnology pioneer and Nobel laureate Richard Smalley today urged members of Congress to boost dramatically the budget for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

He argued that through nanotechnology and other research, the office could be instrumental in development of new energy sources.

Smalley, also co-founder of Texas-based Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc., also managed to get in a few plugs for the nanotechnology industry. The use of carbon-based fuels is “the biggest problem in the world,” Smalley told members of the House Science Committee’s energy subcommittee, but “it’s only a technical problem. There will be technical solution. We just need to find it … It’s time to get serious about this mission. Give them the resources they need.”

Smalley said that finding alternative sources of energy should be a major national initiative, invested with all of the drama and purpose that space exploration had during President John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

“With your help,” he said, “we can make the best gift to mankind.”

Reliance on carbon-based fuels, he said, is not sustainable. Only basic science, which is largely funded by the federal government, can solve the problem, he said, and the place to start is the Office of Science. He recommended launching a new $1 billion program focused on new energy sources. Within five years, he said, the budget should be about $10 billion.

“The new energy program must be big enough to fire the imagination,” he said, and it must be “bold enough to actually make it happen.”

The Department of Energy is critical to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and new energy research would invariably lean heavily on nanotechnology. But first, investments in nanotechnology must rise significantly, he said.

The current U.S. commitment to nanotechnology, which has nearly tripled in the past three years, is still not enough, he cautioned.

Japan’s nanotechnology budget is at $650 million today, and is expected to rise to $2 billion by 2005. Korea, China and Western Europe and investing heavily on nanotechnology as well, he said. The United States is spending about $604 million. The president’s 2003 budget calls for raising that to about $710 million.

The rapid escalation of nanotechnology investment by other countries “is not a good sign,” he said. Nanotechnology research will be central to the development of new energy resources, and “we need to find that energy technology and we need to do it quickly,” he said.