July 16, 2008

Wyden and Snowe Propose Prize Competition to Spur Nanotech Innovation

Washington, D.C. - Working to stimulate innovation and private investment in nanotechnology, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) today introduced the Nanotechnology Innovation and Prize Competition Act. The bill would authorize the Department of Commerce to administer prize competitions in up to four nanotechnology categories: green nanotechnology, alternative energy, human health and commercialization of consumer products.

"This prize competition will prove that big things come in small packages," Wyden said. "Today, nanotechnology stands on the cusp of revolutionary breakthroughs. This bill is a catalyst for a giant leap forward in solving complex challenges like global warming and energy efficiency. By stimulating cooperation between the government and private sector, this bill will promote innovation, accelerate research, create jobs, and strengthen U.S. global competitiveness."

"The boundless nature of nanotechnology is exciting and promising," said Snowe. "From medical innovation to advanced data networks to possibly even new fuel sources, this tiny science has huge potential to revolutionize our daily lives and solve the daunting challenges of our future. This nanotech prize competition will enable the government to leverage a relatively small amount of resources to stimulate a much greater level of investment in nanotech research and, in turn, the role of American innovation and invention on the global scale."

Award competitions have a long and fruitful history of spurring technological innovation. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, which he accomplished to win the Orteig Prize competition. In 1996, The X PRIZE was created to encourage development of civilian space flight. The award inspired such competition that the $10 million prize was given only eight years later and spurred over $100 million in technological investments.

The bill authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to establish a board comprised of members from relevant federal agencies, academia, business and non-profit organizations with expertise in nanotechnology and prize competitions. The board would be authorized to contract with an organization such as The X PRIZE Foundation to administer the competitions and solicit funds from private individuals and entities to supplement the government funds for prizes.

"Given the stakes, it is shocking that no government has identified green nanotechnology as a national priority," said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Technologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "The topic of enabling more environmentally-friendly nanotechnology largely has been a sidebar discussion at hundreds of scientific workshops and conferences. While investment in nanotechnology research is over $13.5 billion annually, relatively little research attention is being directed to ‘greening' technology. This award kick-starts that action."

Wyden and Snowe are working with other Senate nanotechnology leaders to enact the Nanotechnology Innovation and Prize Competition Act as part of the nanotechnology reauthorization bill, which is currently before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Wyden is Co-Chair of the Congressional Nanotechnology Caucus, and former Chair of the Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Innovation.

Senator Wyden's full statement on the introduction of the Nanotechnology Innovation and Prize Competition Act is available at: http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=300765&