Batteries are all around us in the news. First, the Wall Street Journal and other media are reporting that the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating microscopic “dendrite” formation as possible causes for the “dreamliner” lithium ion battery problems. Ironically, when I did lithium ion battery research two decades ago, dendrite formation was a key issue driving the research.
Then, tonight, President Obama noted new materials and more powerful batteries in the State of the Union Speech.
Hopefully, we can all agree on the goal to develop safer AND more powerful batteries – and hopefully it won’t take another 20 years.
The Materials Genome Initiative received a boost this week when the OSTP (Office of Science Technology Policy) announced important updates. Several of these relate directly to nanotechnology.
For example, the NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) has now set fourth its fourth signature initiative, called Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI). A key aspect of NKI is predicting the properties of nanomaterials. The prior three initiatives related to nanomanufacturing, nanosolar, and nanoelectronics.
In addition, Lockheed Martin is leading a new carbon nanostructure consortium.
Hopefully, concrete action will flow from these important updates, in contrast to mere “bureaucratic shuffling” or “talking for the sake of talking.” Private sector involvement, reflected in the Lockheed work, is critical. Good to see executive action (or at least action from the executive branch). More information can be found in this link and also this other link.
Before signing patent reform legislation on Friday, September 16, 2011, President Obama spoke briefly of new federal innovation initiatives which include nanotech and cleantech. More detailed information has been provided.
Nanowerk reports some of the developments: "The National Institutes of Health will collaborate with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop a chip to screen for safe and effective drugs far more swiftly and efficiently than current methods, and before they are tested in humans. The chip will be loaded with specific cell types that reflect human biology. It will be designed to allow multiple different readouts that can indicate whether a particular compound is likely to be safe or toxic for humans."
DARPA’s press release, with an emphasis on vaccines, also was provided. The NIH also had a press release.
Some of the political framework, if not controversy, has been noted in the press.
In addition, an additional NIH press release focused on more efficient exclusive license options for start-up companies as part of the administration’s Startup America initiative.
President Obama finally signed the America Invents Act for patent reform and also provided interesting remarks before signing. A video of his remarks and his signing is available, including opening comments from a Thomas Jefferson student who has a patent already.
In addition, in the middle of the President’s remarks, he made some brief remarks about a new center at the NIH related to commercializing pharmaceutical drugs, about a hundred or more universities working together in new programs to commercialize research, and the commercialization of biotechnology generally which also links to cleantech. These vague remarks were fleshed out more in a White House press release provided today.
Technology innovation is tremendously important to our society, and tuning the patent system is important. One can argue our society will rise or fail depending on technology innovation. Few if any presidents, captured as they are by political intrigue rather than substance, have truly captured the innovation spirit. Obama seems to be trying and doing as well as anyone of them in modern times at least.
The NNI’s nano.gov website was finally – after two months – updated this week with a White House press release on President Obama’s visit to Carnegie Mellon University and announcements re Advanced Manufacturing programs (AMP). It was good to see the webpage back in action. Earlier this year, OSTP’s Travis Earles (who has since left for an industry position) had told audiences how the webpage was finally being upgraded after a long wait. The site was upgraded, true, but then promptly stopped being updated (the last news update was April 25, 2011). Hopefully, if NNI is to thrive and drive a better future, the updates will be frequent, certainly more frequent that every other month.
The Department of Energy, in a move related to AMP, announced recent manufacturing job training initiatives.
I had the pleasure last week of listening to Steven Chu’s speech at the "NNI at Ten" event in Washington DC. Some, I have heard, were disappointed in his speech for delivering "old" material and not saying too much about the commercialization and the policies associated with nanotech. I certainly had noted he focused on more technical issues, demonstrating his ability to comprehend nanotech. He did not intend apparently to inspire us with high volume enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I was pleased that he participated in the NNI at Ten event.
Since President Obama came to the front of the national scene over the past several years, I have noticed he does not use the term "nanotechnology" much in his speeches and dialog with the press. Perhaps I have missed it, but I have noted that for some time now and ongoing, occasional google searches seem to confirm my note (feel free to send me examples if you know of them). He certainly makes plenty of references to clean technology, biotechnology, and other technologies – so why not nanotechnology? As the NNI at Ten event confirmed, the federal government continues to spend billions on the nanotech effort including responsible research on the environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanotech. Nanotech needs for Obama (and Chu) to not just coordinate nanotech research funding in a ‘behind the scenes" mode, but also champion the cause publicly. More is needed.