National Nanotechnology Initiative

This page was updated on Wednesday, September 22, 2021 at 07:34 AM GMT


Image of teeth, nanoparticles and magnets.

Nanotechnology means the science and technology that enables scientists to understand, measure, manipulate, and manufacture at the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular (a discrete number of molecules) levels. Nanotechnology is aimed at creating materials, devices, and systems with fundamentally new molecular organization, properties, and functions. Nanotechnology and nanoscale refer to lengths of 1 to 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or about the width of 10 hydrogen atoms arranged side by side in a line. Think atoms and molecules and really small stuff.

National Nanotechnology Initiative

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was launched in 2001. NNI is a multiagency R&D initiative to advance understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale, where the physical, chemical, and biological properties of materials differ in fundamental and sometimes useful ways from the properties of individual atoms or bulk matter.

On December 3, 2003, President Bush signed into law the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act which authorizes funding for nanotechnology research and development (R&D) over 4 years, starting in Fiscal Year 2005. This legislation puts into law programs and activities supported by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), one of the highest multi-agency R&D priorities. Since its inception the 20 agencies that make up the NNI have spent over $31 billion.

Chart of federal spending on the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

The chart above shows NNI spending from 2001-2021.

The five Federal organizations with the significant investments in nanotechnology research and development, representing 96% of the total funding, are:

  • HHS/NIH — Nanotechnology-based biomedical research at the intersection of life and physical sciences.
  • NSF — Fundamental research and education across all disciplines of science and engineering.
  • DOE — Fundamental and applied research providing a basis for new and improved energy technologies.
  • DOD — Science and engineering research advancing defense and dual use capabilities.
  • DOC/NIST — Fundamental research and development of measurement and fabrication tools, analytical methodologies, metrology, and standards for nanotechnology.

On Nanoparticle-Based Drug Delivery

Compared to conventional drugs, nanoparticle-based drug delivery has specific advantages, such as improved stability and biocompatibility, enhanced permeability and retention effect, and precise targeting. The application and development of hybrid nanoparticles, which incorporates the combined properties of different nanoparticles, has led this type of drug-carrier system to the next level. In addition, nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems have been shown to play a role in overcoming cancer-related drug resistance.

National Nanotechnology Initiative Agencies

Following is the list of agencies that participated in the National Nanotechnology Initiative

  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
  • Department of Agriculture (USDA)
    • Agricultural Research Service (ARS)*
    • Forest Service (FS)*
    • National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)*
  • Department of Commerce (DOC)
    • Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)
    • Economic Development Administration (EDA)
    • International Trade Administration (ITA)
    • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)*
    • Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
  • Department of Defense (DOD)*
  • Department of Education (ED)
  • Department of Energy (DOE)*
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
    • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
    • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)*
    • National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH)*
    • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)*
    • National Institutes of Health (NIH)*
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Department of the Interior (DOI)
    • Bureau of Reclamation (USBR)*
    • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)*
    • Geological Survey (USGS)
  • Department of Justice (DOJ)
    • National Institute of Justice (NIJ)*
  • Department of Labor (DOL)
    • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Department of State (DOS)
  • Department of Transportation (DOT)
    • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)*
  • Department of the Treasury (Treasury)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)*
  • Intelligence Community (IC)
  • International Trade Commission (USITC)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)*
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)*
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
* Denotes agencies (or organizations within agencies) reporting funding for nanotechnology R&D

Nanotechnology Research Sample By Department

This is a list of sample research projects cited in the President's 2021 budget request to Congress. The research topic and funding agency are included.

Nano Research Topic Department
Producing higher-quality graphene oxide paper. DOD — ONR
Making ceramics that are ductile like metals. DOD — ONR
Utilizing materials by design for high-performance concrete. DOD — ARMY
Understanding the interface between living cells and synthetic surfaces. DOD — AFRL
Inventing artificial muscles. DOD — AFRL
Printing and powering wearable sensors and electronic tattoos. DOD, NIH, and NSF
Revealing a magnetic topological insulator. DOE — Oak Ridge National Lab
Enhancing battery capacity. DOE
Removing salts and pollutants to make water drinkable. DOE
Confirming predicted behavior that could lead to a four-way switch. DOE
Catalyzing fuels and materials. DOE and NSF
Dissipating heat for hypersonics. HHS — AFRL
Eliminating HIV from the genomes of living animals. HHS — NIH
Enabling testing for viruses - FDA has utilized nanosensors to develop
novel and sensitive diagnostic assays for HIV, influenza, West Nile virus, dengue virus, and Zika virus.
Understanding DNA origami. HHS — NIH
Making plant-based insulation better than petroleum-based foams. HHS — NIFA
Directly writing quantum light sources. HHS — AFRL and NRL
Detecting and degrading contaminants in water and the environment. HHS — NIFA
Accelerating wound healing. HS — NIH
Developing biosensors to detect life in oceans and space. NASA, NSF, and NIH
Designing vaccines to improve cancer immunotherapies. NIH and DOD
Detecting cancer and other diseases with a urine test. NIH and NSF
Understanding the lifetime of tooth enamel. NIH, DOE, NSF, and DOD
Fabricating quantum devices with near atomic precision. NIST and DOD
Advancing nanotechnology to address brain health. NIST and DOD
Advancing understanding and control of spin states. NIST and DOD
Developing the first universal nanoparticle adsorption model. NSF
Enabling smart textiles to alert workers and first responders to dangerous chemicals. NSF
Breaking the record for the blackest black. -- carbon nanotubes. NSF and DOD
Exploiting the properties of light for autonomous vehicles and detecting distant galaxies. NSF and DOD
Harvesting Wi-Fi signals to power devices. NSF and DOD
Monitoring the stomach with ingestible expanding pill. NSF and NIH
Tailoring enzymes to make eco-friendly fuels and materials. NSF and NIST
Transforming the way nutrients are delivered to plants. NSF, DOE, and EPA
Rapidly detecting pathogens for food safety. USDA — ARS
Avoiding antibiotics in aquaculture. USDA — ARS

SBIR/STTR Nanotechnology Research Topics By Department

This is a list of Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) research topics along with the funding agency.

Nano Research Topic Department
Automation of scanning electron microscopy image analysis for semiconductor industry process development (NIST). COMMERCE — NIST
Chiroptical spectrometer for distinguishing left and right enantiomers of nanomaterials (NIST). COMMERCE — NIST
Silicon nanowire sensors to measure host-cell proteins at a biomanufacturing line (NIST). COMMERCE — NIST
Nanocomposite coatings to reduce wear and improve efficiency of mechanical gears (DOD). DOD
3D-printed controlled-release nanomedicines to treat bacterial infections in burn victims (DOD). DOD
Nanoengineered electrodes for less expensive, safer, longer-lasting, and/or higher-energy density batteries, enabling a variety of commercial and military applications (DOD, DOE). DOD
Nanostructured hydrophobic anti-reflective surfaces for military sensor platforms (DOD). DOD
Gecko-inspired nanostructures to hermetically seal chemical/biological protection systems (DOD). DOD
Nanoengineered vaccines for malaria and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (DOD, NIH). DOD and HHS — NIH
High-resolution, low-cost vias for 3D integrated sensors (DOE). DOE
Highly parallel scanning tunneling microscopy lithography/hierarchical assembly for atomically precise manufacturing (DOE). DOE
Bioinspired nanostructured antireflective materials for high-efficiency lighting (DOE). DOE
Integrating software/hardware approaches for compressive sensing to enhance the performance of ultra-high-speed electron cameras (DOE). DOE
In-situ transmission electron microscopy characterization of electrochemical processes in solid-state energy storage devices with air-sensitive materials (DOE). DOE
Low-cost hybrid plasmonic and photonic “campanile” near-field probes by nanoimprint lithography (DOE). DOE
Scanning tunneling microscope-based hydrogen depassivation lithography automation via artificial intelligence (DOE). DOE
Nanomaterials enabling highway paint to communicate safety/hazard messages to vehicles (DOT). DOT
Inexpensive, low-power nanosensors for detecting methane leaks (EPA). EPA
Nanoliposomes for targeted delivery of cancer therapeutics (NIH). HHS — NIH
Nanopatterned electrode arrays for measuring and promoting cardiac tissue development (NIH) HHS — NIH
Bioresorbable nanoparticles for visual detection of early-stage dental decay (NIH). HHS — NIH
Models and field-deployable in vitro devices for testing toxicity of engineered nanomaterials (NIH) HHS — NIH
Detecting biomarkers for life in ocean worlds with solid-state nanopores (NASA). NASA
Shear-thickening suspensions of nanoparticles for puncture-resistant space suits (NASA). NASA
Sensors, surfaces, and membranes for spacecraft water monitoring, recovery, and recycling (NASA). NASA
Mass-produced paper filters with nanosilver for affordable point-of-use water disinfection (NSF) NSF
Nanocomposite foams for pressure mapping to prevent bed sores in long-term care (NSF). NSF
Synthetic nanomaterials for cell scaffoldings to promote infection-free tissue regeneration (NSF). NSF
Nanomanufacturing of photocatalyst floor coatings to reduce volatile organic compounds (NSF). NSF
Nano-plasmonic grating sensors for 100X increased sensitivity in tuberculosis detection (NSF). NSF
Nanoscale silica-based materials to reinforce natural rubber for “green” tires (NSF). NSF
“Nanobubble” washing solutions for removal of pathogens in fresh produce (USDA). USDA
Nanosensors for detecting chemicals from insect infestations in food storage containers (USDA). USDA