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Report: U.S. on right path with nano

Federal panel gives a pat on the back to national nanotechnology efforts but says there's still room for improvement.

The U.S. program to promote nanotechnology got a thumbs-up on Wednesday from its federal oversight body, which nevertheless said there was some room for improvement.

The National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel, which assesses trends and developments in nanotechnology and evaluates where the United States stands, said in a report that the National Nanotechnology Initiative has received value for the more than $4 billion it has spent on research since 2001. The panel, however, cautioned that complacency should not set in.

"The United States holds a leadership position in nanotechnology, but it is being aggressively challenged by many nations," wrote the report's authors, who evaluated the investment, patents and published papers that have been generated in the field.

Nanotechnology involves using materials that are no greater than 100 nanometers in size to build products. It is becoming increasingly important as the need for smaller devices grows. Some also believe that such new technology will lead to greater innovation.

The report issued two main recommendations to help the United States keep its lead in the nanotechnology arena. One centered on promoting greater coordination between the states, as a means of spurring economic development of the technology.

"The NNI needs to take further steps to communicate and establish links to U.S. industry to further facilitate technology transfer from the lab to the marketplace," the report stated. "States perform a vital role in fostering economic development through business assistance programs, tax incentives and other means."

The panel's other recommendation called for maintaining flexibility in managing the program, in light of the fast changes that occur in this field.

While the United States is the leader in nanotechnology development, Europe and Japan are also making similar levels of investment, the report found. President Bush has earmarked more than $1 billion for nanotechnology research across 11 federal agencies in the fiscal 2006 budget.