Big Thanks to Leader of Small Science

Eight years ago this week, E. Clayton Teague took leave from his position at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to take the reins of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. That’s the office that oversees the interagency process through which the United States ensures that its investments in nanotechnology—the promising field of the extremely small—are appropriately interwoven so as to accelerate the science and boost the Nation’s economy.

It was a one-year assignment, which got extended to two, and then three, and then just kept going. Such is the fate of a public-service scientist-administrator who gets swept up in a fast-moving field of science with direct impacts on energy, electronics, materials science, optics, food and medicine, and national security, to mention just a few.

Tomorrow, Clayton will step down as Director of the NNCO, an office that is overseen here at OSTP via the National Science and Technology Council. During his tenure, the interagency nanotechnology research program he oversaw—the National Nanotechnology Initiative, or NNI—grew from a modest experiment in shared investments by a handful of agencies to the booming model of interagency cooperation that it is today, involving 25 agencies and departments and with cumulative investments of some $14 billion in nanoscale science and engineering.  

Clayton hit the ground running in 2003, being called upon to testify before a Senate committee within weeks of his appointment (the first of several such hearings over the years). He leaves without ever decelerating; today, on his penultimate day at NNCO, he made an appearance before the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, where he described the great distance nanotechnology has come in recent years and the progress it is expected to make in the years ahead, as summarized in the most recent edition of the NNI Strategic Plan.

Thanks, Clayton, for all your work. It will be difficult for the smallest science to fill those big shoes.

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