The Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers (NSECs) operate in the context of a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that represents one of the key instruments of nanotechnology policy in the USA. In this article, we report on a study aimed at understanding the mechanisms by which this collection of centers contributes to the realization of the goals of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The study is focused on the program level so we are not considering the detailed contributions or performance assessment of all the activities of individual centers. Rather, the study is organized around the main areas in which collective patterns of impact related to the stated goals of the NNI policy have been detected. The centers are found to perform in the higher end of the distribution for the field, when measured by citations, journal impact factor, leveraging of support, interdisciplinarity, and collaboration with industry. Creative contributions to education and public diffusion of nanotechnology are also detected. Efforts at developing a framework for responsible development of nanotechnology are also observed but challenges remain since the integration of these into the core mission of the program is much more difficult.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jan_youtie/48/