Overview of NSI Activities
Nanotechnology-enabled sensors are providing new solutions in physical, chemical, and biological sensing that enable increased detection sensitivity, specificity, multiplexing capability, and portability for a wide variety of health, safety, and environmental assessments. The Sensors NSI addresses both the opportunity of using nanotechnology to advance sensor development and the challenges of developing sensors to keep pace with the increasingly widespread use of engineered nanomaterials.
NNI agencies participating in the Sensors NSI coordinate efforts and stimulate existing and emerging projects to explore the use of nanotechnology for the development and commercialization of nanosensors. Agency representatives hold periodic teleconferences to address pressing technical questions and keep each other informed of ongoing and planned activities of mutual interest. These regular exchanges have led to tangible results such as revised solicitations based on the knowledge of other agencies’ priorities, needs, and plans; cross-agency participation in review of proposals and grantee meetings; and the identification of collaborators for specific project needs. In addition, the ongoing research dialogues inform agency members of opportunities for collaboration in the formulation of both agency-specific and joint funding announcements that support the overall goals of the initiative.
An important priority remains engaging with stakeholders to identify the barriers they face in the development and commercialization of nanosensors. The Sensors NSI serves as a focal point for relevant stakeholder communities and the public to address opportunities and barriers through the Request for Information (RFI) mechanism, town hall discussions, and community meetings. Common themes continue to be identified through these inputs and interactions. For example, the needs for improved stakeholder awareness, communication, and collaboration at the convergence of testing and operational standards, and for access to test and fabrication facilities, have been particularly highlighted in the stakeholder interaction activities of the Sensors NSI.
With support from NNCO, the feedback from the aforementioned community-building efforts was used in the planning for the Sensor Fabrication, Integration, and Commercialization Workshop held September 10–11, 2014. This event focused on identifying key challenges faced by sensor developers and on determining the critical needs of the community, especially with respect to necessary standards, testing facilities, and advances in manufacturing. Several key outcomes from this workshop will inform the path forward for the signature initiative. One area discussed was the critical need to access test conditions beyond standard laboratory environments. Realistic test beds are essential for the relevant and reliable transition of prototype sensors from research to commercial use. Sensor developers also expressed the need for access to fabrication facilities beyond the prototype stage, but prior to large-scale production, to demonstrate performance characteristics, reproducibility, and other measures required for adoption. Support for enhanced communication and a desire to share best practices were also strongly expressed by the community. In response to this and other feedback, the Sensors NSI page has been revised to more effectively serve as a portal for information and guidance to the nanosensor development community regarding sensor fabrication and test facilities, funding opportunities, regulatory information, standards, and other relevant resources. The Sensors NSI will continue to work and engage with community leaders to improve this portal and explore opportunities and forums to facilitate communication and collaboration in the quest to accelerate sensor development.