NNI Vision, Goals, and PCAs


2016 Strategic Plan cover

Read the NNI Strategic Plan

The vision of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society.

The NNI expedites the discovery, development, and deployment of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology to serve the public good through a program of coordinated research and development aligned with the missions of the participating agencies. In order to realize the NNI vision, the NNI agencies are working collectively toward four primary goals; please note that each of the following goals is linked to a page detailing each goal's objectives:

  1. Advance a world-class nanotechnology research and development program;

  2. Foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit;

  3. Develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and a dynamic infrastructure and toolset to advance nanotechnology; and

  4. Support responsible development of nanotechnology.

For an in-depth look at how the NNI guides and facilitates the achievement of this vision, see our Strategic Plan.

Program Component Areas (PCAs), which provide an organizational framework for categorizing the NNI's activities, are major subject areas under which related projects and activities are grouped. Progress in these areas is critical to achieving the NNI's goals and to realizing its vision. The investment for each PCA is reported in the annual NNI supplement to the President’s Budget.

The PCAs are:

1.     Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives and Grand Challenges
  1a. Sustainable Nanomanufacturing: Creating the Industries of the Future
  1b. Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond
  1c. Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI): Enabling National Leadership in Sustainable Design
  1d. Nanotechnology for Sensors and Sensors for Nanotechnology: Improving and Protecting Health, Safety, and the Environment
  1e. Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge
  1f. Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing

2.     Foundational Research

3.     Nanotechnology-Enabled Applications, Devices, and Systems

4.     Research Infrastructure and Instrumentation

5.     Environment, Health, and Safety

PCA Definitions

These are the formal definitions of the current PCAs. Please note that the PCAs change over time. Previous PCA definitions are included in the 2014 and earlier NNI Strategic Plans, posted on the publications page.   


PCA 1. Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives and Grand Challenges

Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives (NSIs) serve to spotlight topical areas of national importance that exhibit particular promise for significant advances through close and targeted program-level interagency collaboration. The NSIs define the shared vision of the participating agencies for accelerating the advancement of nanoscale science and technology from research through commercialization in their respective areas. The NSI portfolio is intended to be dynamic, with topical areas rotating and evolving over time. 

A nanotechnology-inspired grand challenge (GC) is an ambitious but achievable goal that harnesses nanoscience, nanotechnology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and has the potential to capture the public’s imagination. The current grand challenge topic was chosen based on extensive input from the private and academic research sectors, with the goal of stimulating additional public and private sector interest and collaboration in developing low-power cognitive computing capabilities far beyond what is currently possible.

These PCA 1 categories include both foundational research and nanotechnology-enabled applications, devices, and systems within each NSI or GC, as appropriate. Instrumentation that is specifically developed in support of a confined topical area covered by one of the NSIs or GCs is included here, but otherwise the development or acquisition of more broadly applicable instrumentation (as well as resources devoted to facilities) falls under the separate PCA on Research Infrastructure and Instrumentation. Most research on Environment, Health, and Safety falls within the separate Program Component Area (PCA 5) described below, but activities directly pertinent to specific NSIs or GCs are reported in this section instead. Note that the NSIs and GCs are focused on the thrust areas as described below, and that activity falling outside these areas is classified under other PCAs.

1a. Sustainable Nanomanufacturing: Creating the Industries of the Future   

The Nanomanufacturing NSI supports R&D to establish advanced manufacturing technologies for integrating nanoscale building blocks into complex, large-scale systems. The initiative has two thrust areas: (1) design of scalable and sustainable nanomaterials (such as those derived from wood and other renewable resources), components, devices, and processes; and (2) nanomanufacturing measurement technologies.

1b. Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond

The Nanoelectronics NSI supports R&D on discovery and use of novel nanoscale fabrication processes and innovative concepts to produce revolutionary materials, devices, systems, and architectures to advance the field of nanoelectronics. The initiative has five thrust areas: (1) exploring new or alternative “state variables” for computing; (2) merging nanophotonics with nanoelectronics; (3) exploring carbon-based nanoelectronics; (4) exploiting nanoscale processes and phenomena for quantum information science; and (5) expanding the national nanoelectronics research and manufacturing infrastructure network.

1c. Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI): Enabling National Leadership in Sustainable Design

The goal of the NKI NSI is to provide a stakeholder-driven, practical knowledge and data infrastructure to accelerate nanotechnology discovery and innovation. The NKI NSI has four thrust areas that focus efforts on cooperative interdependent development of: (1) a collaborative, multi-sector community of practice; (2) an agile modeling network coupling experimental basic research, modeling, and applications development; (3) a cyber-toolbox for nanomaterials design; and (4) a robust digital nanotechnology data and information infrastructure.

1d. Nanotechnology for Sensors and Sensors for Nanotechnology: Improving and Protecting Health, Safety, and the Environment

The goals of the Sensors NSI are to support research on nanomaterial properties and the development of supporting technologies that enable next-generation sensing of biological, chemical, and nanoscale materials. The two thrust areas for the Sensors NSI are to: (1) develop and promote adoption of new technologies that employ nanoscale materials and features to overcome technical barriers associated with conventional sensors; and (2) develop methods and devices to detect and identify engineered nanomaterials across their life cycles in order to assess their potential impact on human health and the environment.

1e. Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge

The goal of the Water NSI is to take advantage of the unique properties of engineered nanomaterials to generate significant breakthroughs in addressing our Nation’s water challenges. The three thrust areas are to: (1) increase water availability using nanotechnology; (2) improve the efficiency of water delivery and use with nanotechnology; and (3) enable next-generation water monitoring systems with nanotechnology.

1f. Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing

This grand challenge brings together scientists and engineers from many disciplines to look beyond the von Neumann computing architecture as implemented with transistor-based processors, and chart a new path that will continue the rapid pace of innovation beyond the next decade to enable low-power cognitive computing. Specifically, the challenge is to “create a new type of computer that can proactively interpret and learn from data, solve unfamiliar problems using what it has learned, and operate with the energy efficiency of the human brain.” It is a coordinated and collaborative effort across multiple levels of government, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations. R&D focus areas for Federal R&D investments in support of this goal include: (1) materials; (2) devices and interconnects; (3) computing architectures; (4) brain-inspired approaches; (5) fabrication/manufacturing; (6) software, modeling, and simulation; and (7) applications.

PCA 2. Foundational Research

The foundational research under PCA 2 includes: (1) discovery and development of fundamental knowledge pertaining to new phenomena in the physical, biological, and engineering sciences that occur at the nanoscale; (2) elucidation of scientific and engineering principles related to nanoscale structures, processes, and mechanisms; (3) research aimed at discovery and synthesis of novel nanoscale and nanostructured materials and at a comprehensive understanding of the properties of nanomaterials ranging across length scales, and including interface interactions; and (4) research directed at identifying and quantifying the broad implications of nanotechnology for society, including social, economic, ethical, and legal implications.

PCA 3. Nanotechnology-Enabled Applications, Devices, and Systems 

PCA 3 covers research and development that applies the principles of nanoscale science and engineering to create novel devices and systems, or to improve existing ones. It includes the incorporation of nanoscale or nanostructured materials and the processes required to achieve improved performance or new functionality, including metrology, scale up, manufacturing technology, and nanoscale reference materials and standards. To meet this definition, the enabling science and technology must be at the nanoscale, but the applications, systems, and devices themselves are not restricted to that size.

PCA 4. Research Infrastructure and Instrumentation

PCA 4 supports the establishment and operation of user facilities and networks, acquisition of major instrumentation, workforce development, and other activities that develop, support, or enhance the Nation’s physical, cyber, or workforce infrastructure for nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. It includes R&D pertaining to the tools needed to advance nanotechnology research and commercialization, including informatics tools and next-generation instrumentation for characterization, measurement, synthesis, and design of materials, structures, devices, and systems. While student support to perform research is captured in other categories, dedicated educational efforts ranging from curriculum development to advanced training are included here as resources supporting the workforce infrastructure of the NNI.

PCA 5. Environment, Health, and Safety

PCA 5 includes research and development primarily directed at understanding the potential environmental, health, and safety impacts of nanotechnology development, and at assessing, managing, and mitigating the corresponding risks.