Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges

A nanotechnology-inspired grand challenge 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.

In an October 2014 assessment of the NNI, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended that agencies engage research, development, and industrial stakeholders in the identification and selection of grand challenges in order to focus and amplify the impact of Federal nanotechnology activities.

In June 2015, OSTP, working with the Federal agencies that participate in the NNI, issued a Request for Information seeking suggestions from the public for nanotechnology-inspired grand challenges.  After considering over 100 responses, on October 20, 2015, OSTP announced the first such grand challenge—one that addresses three Administration priorities: the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), and the BRAIN initiative.

A Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing:


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.

digital picture of 1's and 0's meant to represent computing architechture
This challenge will look beyond conventional computing based on the Von Neumann architecture.

While it continues to be a national priority to advance conventional digital computing—which has been the engine of the information technology revolution—current technology falls far short of the human brain in terms of both the brain’s sensing and problem-solving abilities and its low power consumption. Many experts predict that fundamental physical limitations will prevent transistor technology from ever matching these twin characteristics.  This grand challenge will bring together scientists and engineers from many disciplines to look beyond the decades-old approach to computing based on the Von Neumann architecture as implemented with transistor-based processors, and chart a new path that will continue the rapid pace of innovation beyond the next decade.


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