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Hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on "National Nanotechnology Initiative: Charting the Course for Reauthorization"

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on "National Nanotechnology Initiative: Charting the Course for Reauthorization"

Kerry Urges Funding for Nanotechnology Environmental Safety Research

Senator John Kerry presided over the Commerce Subcommittee hearing today, "National Nanotechnology Initiative: Charting the Course for Reauthorization," urging that the Senate reauthorize funding for cutting-edge nanotechnology research, including increased funding for studies that research how nanotechnology affects human bodies and the environment over time.

"Nanotechnology is one of the most promising industries in our economy, and Massachusetts is a leader in the nanotech revolution. But we still don't know the long term effects of prolonged exposure to these tiny particles and it's in our collective interest to invest in the research that will maximize the breakthroughs of nanotechnology while protecting Americans' health and safety."

Below is Kerry's opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you for joining us today to address an issue that could not be more timely and important as we look toward the next generation of nanotechnology breakthroughs.

In the eight years since President Clinton first created the National Nanotechnology Initiative, it has become clear that our ability to manipulate, engineer, and manufacture nanoparticles provides unlimited potential for innovation and growth throughout our economy.

In 2006, an estimated $50 billion in products worldwide incorporated nanotechnology. This figure has been projected by some to reach $2.6 trillion over the next eight years. Scientists are using this technology to create advanced materials and systems that will improve our way of life -- and will revolutionize the very concepts of size and scale.

The nanotechnology revolution is occurring across all sectors. In Massachusetts, my friend Dr. Robert Linares started a company in his garage after discovering a way to use nanotechnology to turn carbon powder into diamonds.

I've visited one of Dr. Linares' facilities and actually watched his team as it worked to build a diamond, atom by atom. His company, Apollo Diamond, is currently working with the Defense Department to develop related technologies that will reduce collateral damage, protect soldiers and citizens, and improve the capabilities of our military aircraft.

We also know that there is extraordinary potential we can unlock for nanotechnology in life sciences, and we'll hear later this afternoon from Dr. Goel, who is the CEO of Nanobiosym Diagnostics. Dr. Goel's company is creating portable, nanotechnology-enabled devices that can rapidly and accurately provide patients with real-time access to medical diagnostic information. Even better, she's working to perfect this technology in Medford, Massachusetts.

As visionaries and innovators such as Dr. Linares and Dr. Goel work to harness the incredible potential of nanotechnology, the Federal government has a critical role to play. As we look toward reauthorizing the National Nanotechnology Initiative at the end of this fiscal year, there are issues and questions that must be addressed so that we can stay out in front of our global competitors, most of whom are betting big on nanotechnology.

We also have a responsibility to make sure we're dedicating sufficient resources toward researching the environmental health and safety (EHS) impacts of these particles. The Chairman of this Committee asked for a GAO report to assess just how much of a priority is being placed on EHS research across the 25 agencies that administer the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

GAO's response is troubling. In 2006, just 3 percent of the $1.3 billion designated for the National Nanotechnology Initiative was used to further EHS research. Even this statistic is misleading, because according to the Comptroller General, the agencies are using a faulty reporting structure and are not receiving appropriate guidance for how to apportion funding across multiple topics.

Funding for EHS research will be a top priority as we move forward with this reauthorization process. We've got to ensure that we have a well coordinated, well funded, government-wide approach to performing the type of research that will tell us whether these particles are safe to work around, whether they're safe for the environment, and whether they're safe for consumers once they reach the shelves. It's critical that we do the research up front, so we're not asking what went wrong a hundred years from now.

I look forward to a discussion with both panels as to how the National Nanotechnology Initiative has been successful as well as what can be done to improve it. I'll be working with my colleagues on the subcommittee, including Senator Pryor, with whom I co-chair the Democratic High Tech Task Force, to draft a reauthorization proposal, and I hope that our discussion today will be instructive in that effort.


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