National Science Foundation 2013 Budget Request

As part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget appropriations process, Dr. Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), appeared before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science,  and Related Agencies on Tuesday, 03/06/2012, to present and respond to the subcommittee members questions about the NSF's proposed 2013 budget.

According to Dr. Suresh's prepared statement, the 2013 request, "totals $7.373 billion, an increase of $340.0 million (4.8 percent) over the FY 2012 enacted level . . . . [Providing] increased support for core programs in fundemental research and education in all fields of science and engineering".

Dr. Suresh's prepared statement reflects the reality of budget constraints imposed by the Federal government's need to reduce the level of the Federal deficit. noting that "As good stewards of the public trust, we have reduced or eliminated lower priority programs . . . . "

Among the programs targeted for reductions in funding are the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers (NSECS). . . .

because the state of research in this area has matured significantly and the research should advance more rapidly in  a different, more use-inspired research center program. Several NSECS grants may transition to the Nanosystems Engineering Research Centers (NERCS) as the nanodevices and processes created at graduating NSECSs move to the systems level and potential commercialization. NSF will continue to support eleven NSECs in FY 2013 including the Nanomanufacturing ERC.

As described in a 2001 program solicitation the NSECs could be be "based at a single institution or may consist of a lead institution in partnership with one or more partner institutions".  These Centers were designed to

address opportunities that are too complex and multi-faceted for individuals or small groups of researchers to tackle on their own. They will bring together researchers with diverse expertise, in partnership with industry, government laboratories, and/or partners from other sectors, to address complex, interdisciplinary challenges in nanoscale science and engineering, and will integrate research with education both internally and through a variety of partnership activities. Each center, whether based at a single institution or distributed across a number of institutions, must have an overarching research and education theme, well-integrated programs, and a coherent and effective management plan. The NSECs as a whole will span the range from exploratory research, focused on discovery, to technology innovation and will involve a broad spectrum of disciplines such as engineering, mathematics, computer science, the physical sciences, earth science, and biological sciences.

The following is a list of these centers:

Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing
University of Massachusetts—Amherst

Center for Nanoscale Systems (NSEC)
Cornell University

Science of Nanoscale Systems and their Device Applications (NSEC)
Harvard University

Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology
Rice University

Center for Integrated Nanopatterning and Detection Technologies (NSEC)
Northwestern University

Center for Electron Transport in Molecular Nanostructures (NSEC)
Columbia University

Center for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures (NSEC)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Center for Scalable and Integrated Nano-Manufacturing (NSEC)
University of California—Los Angeles

Center for Chemical-Electrical-Mechanical Manufacturing Systems (NSEC)
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Center on Templated Synthesis and Assembly at the Nanoscale
University of Wisconsin

Center for Probing the Nanoscale
Stanford University

Center for Affordable Nanoengineering of Polymeric Biomedical Devices
Ohio State University

Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems
University of California—Berkeley

Nano-Bio Interface Center
University of Pennsylvania

Center for High Rate Nanomanufacturing
Northeastern University

Center for Nanotechnology in Society
Arizona State University

Center for Nanotechnology in Society
University of California—Santa Barbara

Societal Interactions with Nanotechnology—NanoCenter
University of South Carolina

Dr. Suresh's statement does not indicate how much funding is being cut from the NSECs program budget.

As with other Federal Departments and agencies, this hearing was only the beginning of what can sometimes be a tedious and fractious process. While the possibility of Congress increasing NSF's FY 2013 budget over President Obama's request, the more likely possibility is of it being reduced further from the proposed $7.373 billion.

We'll continue to monitor the NSF budget as it makes it's way through Congress and will post updates.

Funding for Consumer Product Safety

On February 28, 2008 Senator Mark Pryor, along with 10 co-sponsors, introduced S. 2663, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act.  The goal of the bill, as one can infer from the title is to overhaul portions of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  In addition, the bill carves out specific funding for nanotechnology research.

The bill makes a very specific budgetary assignment to CPSC for nanotechnology research.  Specifically, S.2663 states in section 3(d), "There are authorized to be appropriated to the Commission for research, in cooperation with the National Institute of Science and Technology, the Food and Drug Administration, and other relevant Federal agencies into safety issues related to the use of nanotechnology in consumer products, $1,000,000 for fiscal years 2009 and 2010."  The action has yet to be voted on by the Senate, and if passed, would still need to pass through the House of Representatives.

While $1 million seems, to me anyway, to be a small sum for studying consumer safety  issues with regards to nanotechnology, it nonetheless shows Congress's increasing awareness of nanotechnology issues and risks.  While I don't think we'll be able to shrink the data gap with disbursements of $1 million for research, it is a start. 

Budget Numbers

The 2009 budgets for the US Environmental Protection Agency and National Nanotechnology Initiative have been released, and the numbers are interesting.  Both agencies have funds available for nano research, however note that NNI's numbers are to help that office coordinate efforts among 26 federal agencies while EPA's portion is only a small piece of the full pie. 

Key points from the $1.5 billion NNI budget include:

  • increased support for research on fundamental nanoscale phenomena and processes, from $481 million in 2007 to $551 million in 2009.
  • substantial ongoing growth in funding for instrumentation research, metrology and standards (from $53 million in 2007 to $82 million in 2009) and in nanomanufacturing research (from $48 million in 2007 to $62 million in 2009).
  • Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) R&D funding in 2009 ($76 million) is more than double the level of actual funding in 2005 ($35 million) - the first year this data was collected.
  • The steady growth in EHS R&D spending follows the NNI strategy of expanding the capacity to do high-quality research in this field.

Similarly, EPA's budget also provides funding for nano research and development, and in fact addresses nano in the context of the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA): "the primary objective is to determine the physicochemical properties controlling the movement of nanomaterials through soil and aquatic ecosystems. Research questions include the identification of system parameters that alter the surface characteristics of nanomaterials through aggregation (e.g. pH effects), complexation (e.g., surface complexation by dissolved organic carbon) or changes in oxidation state (e.g., chemical- or biological-mediated electron transfer)." 

EPA's total budget is $7.1 billion for fiscal year 2009, and nano-specific funding comes in at $14.9 million (or 0.21% of the total budget).  The funding is part of EPA Goal 4 of 5, "Communities and Ecosystems."

The fact that nanotechnology research funding is increasing is an encouraging sign, however, I'm concerned at the length of time it will take to complete the learning curve given the proportionally small amounts of federal investment into this increasingly important area.