I just finished attending a three-day workshop near Washington, DC sponsored by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (and other "participating agencies", since technically the US Department of Defense is not strictly part of the NNI, for reasons which escape me), focused on "nanotechnology-enabled sensing". Since I've only backed into anything sensing related in the last couple of years, this was very educational for me. The workshop was put together, in part, by Roger van Zee from NIST and Gernot Pomrenke from AFOSR, and was tasked with producing a report on the topic. The report is actually supposed to be useful to diverse a diverse audience, from technical contacts at the various agencies to Congressional staffers and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. I learned a lot, and met many interesting people from other universities, national labs, industry, and federal agencies.
As you might imagine, producing the report is quite a task. You have to corral 30-40 PhD researchers (who all have their own areas of expertise and writing styles), and build up a consensus document that is comprehensive, readable, brief but with some technical depth, and covers an extremely broad topic. Sensing is particularly tricky, since there are many many transduction mechanisms, many many things that people want to detect (including small molecule chemicals, biomolecules, cells, physical variables, EM radiation), and lots of ancillary requirements (biocompatibility? specificity? portability? low power?). It's like herding cats, but in the end I think this report should do a good job of highlighting what nano can do for sensing. (Here's the five-word executive summary: Sensors good, nanosensors much better. See? Who says that it's tough to write for non-scientists....)