Image: Bush signs bill
President Bush signs the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act in the Oval Office, flanked by lawmakers, researchers, administration officials and nanotech industry representatives.

President Bush signed a bill Wednesday to invest $3.7 billion for work in nanotechnology, the science of building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules.

The bill, which authorizes the money over four years, puts into law programs for research and development aimed at finding ways that nanotechnology can detect and treat disease, monitor the environment, and produce and store energy. The legislation is designed to help develop breakthroughs in nanotechnology that will lead to new products, new businesses, new jobs and new industries.

Nanotechnology is the ability to work at the atomic and molecular levels — at scales, for example, that are about one-100,000th the diameter of a human hair.

Academics, industry executives and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham attended the Oval Office ceremony in which Bush signed the measure. The Senate passed the bill on Nov. 18; the House passed the Senate-amended version on Nov. 20.

Few things could be bigger than nanotechnology “in terms of its potential to revolutionize scientific and engineering research, improve human health and bolster our economy,” said the House sponsor, GOP Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, chairman of the House Science Committee.

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