STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN TED STEVENS
COMMERCE COMMITTEE HEARING ON THE
DEVELOPMENTS IN NANOTECHNOLOGY
NANOTECHNOLOGY IS A REVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE, ONE THAT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO CHANGE AND IMPROVE MANY FACETS OF OUR LIVES.
FROM THE CREATION OF MORE PRECISE METHODS OF TARGETING AND TREATING CANCER, TO STRONGER BODY ARMOR FOR OUR SOLDIERS IN THE LINE OF ATTACK, TO CONSUMER PRODUCTS LIKE FLYING GOLF BALLS OR BETTER SUNSCREEN, NANOTECHNOLOGY’S POTENTIAL ENGENDERS EXCITEMENT, INTRIGUE, AND SUBSTANTIAL BENEFITS TO SOCIETY AS A WHOLE.
AS WITH ANY TECHNOLOGICAL AND SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS, CERTAIN OBSTACLES AND CHALLENGES ABOUND. FOR STARTERS, HOW DOES ONE EFFICIENTLY PRODUCE ANYTHING IN QUANTITY WHEN THE RAW MATERIAL IS ONLY ONE ONE-THOUSANDTH THE WIDTH OF A HUMAN HAIR? OR, WILL NANOPARTICLES DIFFER TO SUCH AN EXTENT FROM THEIR LARGER COUNTERPARTS IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD THAT THEIR PROPERTIES EXHIBIT UNKNOWN OR UNSTABLE CHARACTERISTICS? THESE QUESTIONS LIE AT THE HEART OF WHAT WE HOPE TO EXAMINE TODAY. IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT IS THE STATUS OF DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NANOTECH FIELD AND HOW WILL FURTHER PROGRESS IN THIS AREA OF SCIENCE IMPACT OUR EVERYDAY LIVES?
BECAUSE WE ARE HERE IN A SENATE HEARING ROOM, IT IS ONLY NATURAL FOR US ALSO TO CONSIDER WHAT THE PROPER ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IS IN RESPONDING TO NANOTECHNOLOGY’S TREMENDOUS PROMISE. WE WANT TO AVOID STIFLING THIS TECHNOLOGY BEFORE BENEFICIAL APPLICATIONS HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SUCCESSFULLY ENTER THE MARKET. WE ALSO WANT TO PROTECT CONSUMERS WHO ARE THE EVENTUAL END-USERS OF THESE SCIENTIFIC ACHIEVEMENTS. BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, IF A NANOPRODUCT IS NOT SAFE, WHY SHOULD IT BE DEVELOPED EXCEPT FOR NATIONAL DEFENSE.
WE WELCOME TWO VERY DISTINGUISHED PANELS OF WITNESSES TODAY. OUR WITNESSES COME FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS, AND WE LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING THEIR PERSPECTIVES ON DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FIELD OF NANOTECHNOLOGY. WE HOPE TO GAIN SOME OF THEIR WISDOM REGARDING THE MOST APPROPRIATE PATHS TO FOLLOW IN THIS AREA OF SCIENCE.
Chairman Stevens Q&A with Witnesses
Chairman Stevens: Thank you very much, all of you, for coming. Let me say we're each going to have a round of five minutes, and then we'll call the next panel. But can you tell us, Dr. Teague, who started this initiative and what challenges do you have that post obstacles to your continued advancement in your area?
Dr. Teague: Well, the National Nanotechnology Initiative has its roots in some terrific efforts started by a group out of several of the agencies, one of them being here today, Dr. Michael Rocco. Mike Rocco we refer to him. We just recently awarded him a plaque indicating he had sort of movement from the Chair of the Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee. He is one of the – we would say – one of the fathers of the NNI and certainly is one of the major driving forces in that. There were a number of others. They had pulled together first what was called an Interagency Working Group on Nanotechnology, which my understanding is that that worked for several years before it was proposed as an initiative under the previous administration. And following the movement there, it was formed in late 2000. The initiative actually was kicked off in late 2000, and then moved on from there through that and then, of course, in late 2004, we had the 21st Nanotechnology R& D Act, for which many of you, including Senator Allen here, was a big part of in moving that forward. It has a long and very distinguished history as to how it came about. But it really was sort of a ground-up effort on the part of several representatives from the major agencies: Department of Defense, NIH. Jeff Schloss was also part of that initial working group on nanotechnology. So there was a good ground swell to form this and to seize the opportunity that nanotechnology offered for our country and indeed for the world. In terms of the second part of your question and the challenges that we face ahead of us, I think that’s one of the real challenges – there are several that I would point out. One is international competition. The United States is not the only country in the world who has realized the tremendous potential of nanotechnology for economic growth, for national security, for improvement of our overall health. So I think we need to be very much aware and very keenly aware of the competition as it's building in the world. The E.U., if you take all the countries in the E.U., their investment already likely equals or maybe is even beginning to exceed the U.S. investment in nanotechnology as far as public investment.
Chairman Stevens: Were any of you involved in Norm Augustine's study that led to the report we've received on the problems of the growing disparity in education? It's called Rising Above the Gathering Storm. Were any of you involved in that? NSF was, weren't they?
Dr. Buckius: I mean, I personally wasn't, but, yes, NSF was involved from the point of view of...
Chairman Stevens: I just wondered has the role of technology been examined as far as this education gap in our country is concerned? I notice every one of you has a doctorate.
Dr. Teague: Yes, well, certainly, the...
Chairman Stevens: I'm serious now. We've got an initiative here called PACE. We're asked to enlarge the monies that are available for education, not only for education, but to educate people to teach another generation of scientists, engineers and medical people. Is this something that bothers you as far as this area is concerned, nanotechnology, the lack of enough funds to educate the coming generations to keep up with the world?
Dr. Buckius: I have a two-pronged answer. From the point of view of engineering, which is where the Gathering Storm makes a very large point, engineering education is an important issue. We agree with the Gathering Storm's recommendation. We in engineering at NSF are investing, I consider, a lot of money into educational activities in the engineering field, in particular – not in general from the point of view of all of it of education. So our investment in engineering education is significant because it is a problem. We drop off too fast from the freshman class to the graduating class. So now you come to nanotechnology. If you read the testimony, there's a couple of points in there. We've started to fund nanoscience learning centers and teaching centers for exactly the same point – to make sure that we have a population that understands nanotechnology. So, yes, we are investing.
Chairman Stevens: Well, I'm going to live within my limits, Doctors. I've got to tell you we've got meetings after this hearing, so I want to make sure everyone has time. But I do hope that you'll keep in touch with us. And I think maybe we ought to have what I call a listening session, sometime. Sit around with you guys and sort of kick the ball back and forth and understand further what we're really doing.
Chairman Stevens: Well, thank you very much. (Addressing Dr. Davies) You really hit the area that I was going to ask about harder than I intended to hit it. We've got on the floor, as you know – well, it's not on the floor now. It missed staying on the floor by one vote last night, a bill on asbestos. Really the problems of whether any of these new substances or new combination of substances – am I using the right words – could cause us problems of exposure, contamination, diseases. Who is going to look into that? Dr. Davies, you sort of indicate we don't have enough really basic law to deal with that. Have you written anything on that in particular?
Dr. Davies: On the need for further research or on the gaps in the laws?
Chairman Stevens: Gaps in the law.
Dr. Davies: Yes, I mean, the best example is cosmetics, which are being – nanomaterials are being widely used now in face creams, hair lotions, foot deodorants, a whole range of cosmetic products. They are not tested – or, I mean, so far as we know they are not tested for their effects. Or at least there is certainly no public requirement that they be tested. There is no governmental review of those products for their safety or their environmental effects. So, you know, that's the kind of gap that I'm talking about. There are whole other areas – Dr. Davis talked about FDA review of drugs and so on, which I think are fine, which are functioning reasonably well now. And I wouldn't tamper with at all. But there are large gaps in terms of the statutory authority. And there are also major resource problems. There was an earlier question, I think, by Senator Pryor about the resources for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has slightly over 400 total staff. They're 50 percent down from what it was in 1980. And in 1980 it didn't have anywhere near the staff it needed to keep track of consumer products. So that's the kind of resource problem that I'm talking about.
Chairman Stevens: Well, I was told last night that asbestos is really – the last time it was really utilized in our industry was around 1970. But the exposure continues for years, as we found in schools and other places around the world. It's a very serious subject, I think. We're getting into newly developed, in effect, either manmade or at least isolated by man, new substances that might have the potential for contamination or exposure leading to difficulty. I think it's something that we ought to explore with you further, Dr. Davies. It may send shudders up and down the back of people like Dr. Gotcher here who is going to think about the delay that might come from such a review to determine whether there is a potential, environmental potential, for such type of contamination for the future or cause of illness in the future. But I think it's something we ought to explore. I do want to thank all of you for your testimony. And I think, you know, you probably testified more about the real application of some of these nanotechnologies. What challenges did you really face as you developed these new concepts, particularly in the battery area?
Dr. Gotcher: Well, I think I'd like to address your question about health and safety just for a moment, if I may.
Chairman Stevens: Sure.
Dr. Gotcher: The asbestos issue is a severe issue. But what happened, there was a lot of that material was mined and incorporated into products before any health or safety work was done at all. And I think in the nanomaterial world...
Chairman Stevens: There was a war going on, Doctor.
Dr. Gotcher: Well, absolutely. But I think in the nanomaterials I think a number of us are trying to react much more responsibly and look at the health and safety impact of these materials before they're widely used, before millions of pounds are used in products. And so, I think we're trying to address some of the concerns that Dr. Davies is raising. Now with respect to batteries, our materials are used inside of a product. They're encapsulated in materials. And so, the nanomaterials are not readily available to the environment.
Chairman Stevens: Let me back up and tell you that there’s a pit in a city in our State where they went back and excavated out all of the residue of a person who was recognized in the past as being an outstanding person in the use of rehabilitative, reprocessed materials. He took old batteries, and he combined pieces of it and made new types of batteries, as a matter of fact. You've got a battery system. That's what reminds me of it. And he lined a pit with some substance thinking it was enough protection. And he put batteries that he had gotten for several years in that pit. It was found that there was leaking out of that pit of a bunch of chemicals that had been blended together by virtue of this disposal. And it became a Superfund site. Now, what about your batteries? What happens when they dispose of them?
Dr. Gotcher: Well, our materials are much more environmentally friendly. There's no caustics, no acids, no lead, no chromates, no cadmium, no hazardous metals at all. And our anticipation is that these batteries will be recyclable. So what we're trying to do is look ahead and learn from the past and develop an attitude to bring new products to market with this product stewardship concept in mind that's been used in the chemical industry for decades.
Chairman Stevens: You use a lithium ion, don't you?
Dr. Gotcher: That's correct.
Chairman Stevens: Can that be reprocessed?
Dr. Gotcher: Yes, it can.
Chairman Stevens: Is there any danger if it's not?
Dr. Gotcher: Not that we're aware of. In fact, lithium in small quantities is considered to be a favorable metal to have in your body. It's actually used as a positive drug to treat depression in low quantities.
Chairman Stevens: Well, my time is almost running out. I'd like to have any comment any of you would like to make on is there anything here that we should do in the near future that we've not done with regard to this new whole concept in nanotechnology? I'm talking about Congress. I have Dr. Davies’ concept about reviewing the laws. But do you have any gaps in the legal processes or the availability of assistance that you think we should know about?
Dr. Davies: Yes, absolutely. I mean, as I say, I mean, things like cosmetics that clearly are, you know, many kinds of consumer products, gaps which the Congress should address. Also with respect to the resource shortages, which I think are very acute in the regulatory process or among regulatory programs, I think this Committee or a Committee of the Senate could request from the regulatory agencies what resources they do have available to deal with the health and safety consequences and just as a starting point.
Chairman Stevens: Let me go to Dr. Hylton, and then I've got to move on. Doctor, you looked like you wanted to say something.
Dr. Hylton: So my comment about nanotechnologies in environmental health and safety is much along the lines that they may be hazardous materials, and we should think of them as hazardous materials not necessarily because they're nanotechnology, but because they're new and we don't know what they do yet. So we've dealt with hazardous materials for a long, long time and sometimes in not very smart ways, the examples of some of which were just mentioned. So I think it's an immensely complicated problem. I think it would be very difficult to come up with a piece of legislation that could address all of the risks associated with nanotechnology. So I think one approach might be to employ a team of experts to identify where the hot spots are, cosmetics being one example perhaps where there might be risks that are large in comparison to the current usage of the materials or the anticipated usage of the materials in the near future and then attack those one by one. Because I think attacking them will require a different approach in each case.
Chairman Stevens: Well, I thank you.
U.S. Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada)
COMMERCE COMMITTEE HEARING ON
DEVELOPMENTS IN NANOTECHNOLOGY
Thank you, Chairman Stevens, for holding a hearing on this exciting topic.
With nine witnesses set to testify, I will try to keep my opening remarks brief. I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses this afternoon and, in particular, I would like to extend a hearty welcome to a fellow Nevadan, Dr. Alan Gotcher. Dr. Gotcher will be discussing his efforts to develop a nanotechnology business, Altair Nanotechnologies, out in Reno.
Nanotechnology has the potential to positively impact so many aspects of our lives that it is helpful for this Committee to explore where we have been, where we are, and where we are going with nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology can assist humans in very serious ways, from improving the treatment of life-threatening diseases like cancer and diabetes, to assisting our men and women in the armed forces to detect explosive devices.
In addition, nanotechnology can help provide simple pleasures like facilitating the creation of improved sports equipment and chocolate chewing gum.
Nanotechnology has already demonstrated that it will be increasingly relevant in society for a long time to come.
As scientists, universities, and businesses continue their efforts to use nanotechnology in a broad number of fields, we as policy makers in Washington need to be careful as we examine what role we should play.
While nanotechnology has tremendous potential to improve our daily lives, we need to make sure that we are adequately addressing the potential safety concerns that are raised by this dynamic field of development. I look forward to hearing more on this topic from today’s witnesses.
At the same time, we need to be cautious about introducing additional regulation that could unintentionally squelch the positive innovation that is occurring in the field.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman.
Daniel K. InouyeSenator
Nanotechnology is the science of very small things that have very big potential. Like information technology, nanotechnology is not an end in itself. Rather, it has the potential to change fundamentally the way we make products from airplanes to pharmaceuticals.
Nanotechnology holds great promise, but to secure that promise, we need to understand the long-term effects of exposure to nano-engineered particles. What, if any, impact do they have on human health? Researchers are trying to answer this question as we speak.
Despite this uncertainty, companies are already marketing a wide range of products that utilize nanotechnology, from stain-resistant clothing to clear sunscreen.
The question is, are we doing enough to learn about the long-term effects of nano-engineered products? Are we making the right decisions about research funding and prudent regulation?
According to Mr. Davies’ colleagues at the Wilson Center, the answer is no. Only $39 million of the government’s $1.3 billion annual investment in nanotechnology research has been directed toward environmental, health, and safety research and development. Little of that is dedicated to long-term exposure studies.
In what could be a fortuitous coincidence, the Senate is currently considering legislation that addresses the consequences of asbestos exposure. As many of us recall, asbestos was once well-regarded. We knew very little about its effect on human health before its widespread use. We now know it can be deadly to those exposed to it.
With nanotechnology, history must be our guide, and our experience with asbestos provides an important lesson. If we do not learn from it, Congress could very well be considering legislation 30 years from now to address the ill-effects of nano-engineered products.
Like the other members of this committee, I am excited about nanotechnology’s enormous potential, and I look forward to hearing about the advancements in this field. I also hope that our witnesses can help us understand how we can make choices that will allow this industry to grow safely and responsibly.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Clayton TeagueDirectorNational Nanotechnology Coordinating Office
Dr. Richard BuckiusActing Assistant Director for EngineeringNational Science Foundation
Dr. Jeffrey SchlossCo-Chair of the Nanomedicine Roadmap InitiativeNational Institutes of Health
Witness Panel 2
Dr. Mark DavisProfessor of Chemical EngineeringCalifornia Institute of Technology
Dr. J. Clarence DaviesSenior Advisor on the Project on Emerging NanotechnologiesWoodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Dr. Timothy SwagerProfessor of Chemistry and Head of DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Dr. Alan J. GotcherPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAltair Nanotechnologies, Inc.
Dr. Todd HyltonDirector of the Center for Advanced Materials and NanotechnologyScience Applications International Corporation
Mr. Bryant LinaresPresident and CEOApollo Diamond, Inc.