20 Years of Nanotech Excellence: Marburger’s Legacy Lives On

Former SBU President had an influential role in the National Nanotechnology Initiative

Marburger head
John H. Marburger III was the third president of Stony Brook University.

John H. Marburger III, the third president of Stony Brook University and an esteemed physicist and academic, left an indelible mark on the scientific landscape, particularly through his influential role in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a U.S. government initiative that enhances interagency coordination of nanotechnology research and development and develops strategies that complement agency-specific missions and activities.

Serving as the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) under President George W. Bush, Marburger played a pivotal role in shaping the NNI and guiding the nation through a transformative era in nanotechnology research and development.

The NNI recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the signing of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act – which led to the establishment of the NNI – with a week-long celebration December 4-8. A day-long anniversary symposium will take place March 5 at The National Academies for Science, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC.

“Over the years, the NNI has dynamically and responsibly responded to the needs of the country,” said Branden Brough, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), which coordinates the NNI, in a press release issued from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  “The initiative is a model for collaborative and thoughtful technology development, while supporting the rapid development of other emerging fields by creating the infrastructure and workforce development programs that bolster these growing industries.”

Marburger’s tenure at the OSTP, from 2001 to 2009, coincided with the formative years of the NNI. During this period, nanotechnology was rapidly emerging as a frontier of scientific exploration, holding the promise of revolutionary advancements in various fields. Marburger’s background in physics and his keen understanding of the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration positioned him as a key architect of the NNI’s early initiatives.

Carl Williams served as senior policy analyst for the OSTP from 2008-2010 and was most impressed by Marburger’s ability to predict the future of technology. “Marburger foresaw the coming of Quantum Information Science (QIS),” said Williams. “In late 2007, Jack asked me to be detailed to OSTP to establish the first interagency Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science. He wanted to create a vision for QIS that would address issues and concerns among the agencies. However, he foresaw that like nanotechnology, quantum information science and technology would revolutionize 21st Century industry.”

Marburger was correct in his predictions, and in the mid-2010’s industry began to heavily invest in quantum computing in particular, which led to the formation of the National Quantum Initiative (NQI). “It is unfortunate that Jack did not live to see the start of this new revolution,” added Williams.

As part of the anniversary celebration, the NNCO released a series of reports highlighting the impact of the NNI over the past two decades to advance nanoscale for the benefit of society. The resulting revolutions in technology and industry include faster microchips, powerful mRNA vaccines and clean energy technologies. Carbon nanotubes have improved the power and lifecycle of batteries; quantum dots make flat screen TVs more vibrant and nanoparticles allow for faster medical diagnostics.

As president of Stony Brook from 1980-1994, Marburger led Stony Brook’s growth in technology transfer and federally sponsored scientific research to exceed that of any other public university in the northeastern United States.

“Dr. Marburger’s support for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) during his tenure as Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is an important part of his legacy,” said Kei Koizumi, principal deputy director for policy at OSTP who also served in OSTP during the Obama Administration and worked with Marburger on several occasions. “His leadership on behalf of nanoscale science and engineering contributed to NNI enduring and flourishing to the present day under his successors as OSTP Director.”

— Beth Squire

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