May 02, 2005
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| by Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor
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It is well known that many materials behave differently at extremely low temperatures, some materials becoming superconductors. One may wonder whether very, very small objects might also demonstrate interesting behavior. In 1959, Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman gave a talk entitled “There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom” that may be view as launching nanotechnology. In this prescient lecture he said “What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale.” He describes a number of gedanken (“thought”) experiments. In particular he describes the process of reading and writing the
entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin. From there he goes on to imagine storing all the books in the world on a million pin heads. He then ponders about miniaturizing the computer. In the lecture he says that:
“Biology is not simply writing information; it is doing something about it. A biological system can be exceedingly small. Many of the cells are very tiny, but they are very active; they manufacture various substances; they walk around; they wiggle; and they do all kinds of marvelous things---all on a very small scale. Also, they store information. Consider the possibility that we too can make a thing very small which does what we want---that we can manufacture an object that maneuvers at that level!”
"The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It is not an attempt to violate any laws; it is something, in principle, that can be done; but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big"
K. Eric Drexler in his “Engines of Creation” published in 1086 proposed the "assembler", a device having a submicroscopic robotic arm under computer control. It will be capable of holding and positioning reactive compounds in order to control the precise location at which chemical reactions take place. This general approach should allow the construction of large atomically precise objects by a sequence of precisely controlled chemical reactions, building objects molecule by molecule. If designed to do so, assemblers will be able to build copies of themselves, that is, to replicate.
For the purpose of this article "nanotechnology" is a technology that involves all of the following:
1. Research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1 - 100 nanometer range.
2. Creating and using structures, devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size.
3. Ability to control or manipulate on the atomic scale.
One way to characterize nanotechnology is by distinguishing between the fabrication processes of top-down and bottom-up. Top down technology refers to the 'fabrication of nanoscale structures by machining and etching techniques. However, top-down means more than just miniaturization: at the nanoscale level different laws of physics come into play, properties of traditional materials change, and the behaviors of surfaces start to dominate the behavior of bulk materials. On the other hand, bottom-up technology -often referred to as molecular nanotechnology (MNT) - applies to the creation of organic and inorganic structures, atom by atom, or molecule by molecule. It is this area of
nanotechnology that has created the most excitement and publicity. In a mature nanotech world, macrostructures would simply be grown from their smallest constituent components: an 'anything box' would take a molecular seed containing instructions for building a product and use tiny nanobots or molecular machines to build it atom by atom.
Nanotechnology is an enabling technology that will have a significant impact on a broad array of application areas including electronics and computing, materials and manufacturing, energy, transportation, pharmaceuticals, health care, defense, biotechnology and so on. According to David Lewis, Director of Lucent's New Jersey Nanotech Consortium “It's is hard to think of an industry that won't be disrupted by nanotechnology.” NanoMarkets, a technology analyst firm, forecasts the market for nano-enabled electronics will reach $10.8 billion in 2007 and grow to $82.5 billion in 2011. The challenges facing nanotechnology include:
- Novel synthesis techniques
- Characterization of nanoscale properties
- Large scale production of materials
- Application development
Nanotubes as one example of nanotechnology
Fullerenes are one of only 3 types of naturally occurring forms of carbon (the other two being diamond and graphite). They are molecules composed entirely of carbon, taking the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid, or tube. Spherical fullerenes are sometimes called buckyballs, while cylindrical fullerenes are called buckytubes or nanotubes. The molecule was named for Richard Buckminster Fuller, a noted architect who popularized the geodesic dome. R.F. Curl, H.W. Kroto, and R.E. Smalley were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery and characterization of buckminsterfullerenes.
The most common fullerenes is C60 whose structure of is that of a
of the type made of hexagons and pentagons, with a carbon atom at the corners of each hexagon and a bond along each edge. A polymerized single-walled nanotubule (
) is a substance composed of polymerized fullerenes in which carbon atoms from one buckytube bond with carbons in other buckytubes. In the field of nanotechnology, heat resistance and Superconductivity are some of the more heavily studied properties.
Experimentalists and theorists have shown or suggested that solids based on buckyballs can be insulators, conductors, semiconductors, or even superconductors when doped with other atoms or molecules. Pure buckyball solids form crystal structures, like graphite or diamond, that are insulators or semiconductors. However, when doped with an alkali metal, such as potassium or rubidium, these solids can become electricity-conducting metals. Buckyballs doped with an organic reducing agent exhibit ferromagnetic properties.
In 1991 Sumio Iijima, an NEC researcher, discovered a related molecular shape known as the "carbon nanotube" (CNT). CNT is a tubular form of carbon with diameter as small as 1 nm and with a length of a few nm to microns. CNT is configurationally equivalent to a two dimensional grapheme sheet rolled into a tube. These nanotubes have unusual heat and electrical conductivity characteristics. They are about 100 times stronger than steel but just a sixth of the weight. Their conductivity is six orders of magnitude higher than copper and they have very high current carrying capacity. CNTs can be metallic or semiconducting, depending on chirality. Their electronic properties can be
tailored through application of external magnetic field, application of mechanical deformation and so forth.
Different types of carbon nanotubes can be produced in various ways. The most common techniques used nowadays are: arc discharge, laser ablation, chemical vapour deposition and flame synthesis. Purification of the tubes can be divided into a couple of main techniques: oxidation, acid treatment, annealing, sonication, filtering and functionalisation techniques. Possible applications for nanotubes exist in the fields of energy storage, molecular electronics, nanomechanic devices, and composite materials. The four types of energy storage known in carbon nanotubes are: electrochemical hydrogen storage, gas phase intercalation, electrochemical lithium storage and charge storage in
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is a federal R&D program established to coordinate the multiagency efforts in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. The goals of the NNI are to:
- Maintain a world-class research and development program aimed at realizing the full potential of nanotechnology;
- Facilitate transfer of new technologies into products for economic growth, jobs, and other public benefit;
- Develop educational resources, a skilled workforce, and the supporting infrastructure and tools to advance nanotechnology; and,
- Support responsible development of nanotechnology.
The NNI is managed within the framework of the
on November 23, 1993. This Cabinet-level Council is the principal means for the President to coordinate science, space, and technology to coordinate the diverse parts of the Federal research and development. The Nanoscale Science Engineering and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee of the NSTC coordinates planning, budgeting, program implementation and review to ensure a balanced and comprehensive initiative. Twenty-two federal agencies participate in the Initiative, 11 of which have an
On December 3, 2000 President Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. This legislation puts into law programs and activities supported by the NNI, one of the President's highest multi-agency research and development priorities. The authorization bill calls for $3.7 billion for nanotechnology R&D for FY 2005-2008 for five of the 16 agencies comprising the existing NNI. The legislation also requires the creation of research centers, education and training efforts, studies into the societal and ethical consequences of nanotechnology, and activities directed toward transferring technology into the marketplace. Finally, the bill sets up advisory committees and
regular program reviews, and delineates additional tasks for the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.
About 65 percent of NNI funding currently supports academic research, but a substantial portion promotes partnerships between researchers and private enterprise in order to leverage public investment. Toward this end, the NNI funds more than 100 nanoscience and technology centers and networks of excellence for individuals and institutions. The NNI funding strategy is based on five modes of investment, each of which builds on previous and current nanotechnology programs.
The first mode supports a balanced investment in fundamental research to advance the understanding of novel physical, chemical, and biological properties of nanoscale materials and systems.
The second mode focuses on nine specific R&D areas (the “grand challenges”) that have been identified as having the potential to realize significant economic, governmental, and societal impact.
1. Nanostructured Materials by Design
2. Manufacturing at the Nanoscale
3. Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Explosive Detection, and Protection
4. Nanoscale Instrumentation, and Metrology
5. Nano-Electronics, -Photonics, and -Magnetics
6. Healthcare, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics
7. Efficient Energy Conversion and Storage
8. Microcraft and Robotics
9. Nanoscale Processes for Environmental Improvement
The third mode of investment supports centers of excellence that conduct research and promote education of future researchers and innovators, as well as training of a skilled technical workforce for the growing nanotechnology industry.
The fourth mode funds the development of instrumentation, standards, computational capabilities, and other research tools necessary for nanoscale R&D.
The fifth and final mode recognizes and funds research on the societal implications, and addresses educational needs associated with the successful development of nanoscience and nanotechnology.
President Bush's 2006 Budget provides over $1 billion for the multi-agency National Nanotechnology Initiative bringing the total NNI investment under this Administration to $4.7 billion. The largest investments continue to be made by NSF, reflecting that agency's broad mission in supporting fundamental research across all disciplines of science and engineering; DOE, which is in the process of completing five Nanoscale Science Research Centers that will provide research equipment and infrastructure that will be broadly available to researchers from across the scientific research community; and DoD, with its emphasis on development of materials, devices and systems that address the agency's
mission. The FY 2006 request by HHS includes programs at NIH emphasizing nanotechnology-based biomedical advances occurring at the intersection of biology and the physical sciences, such as the National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, and at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that address implications and applications of nanotechnology for health and safety in the workplace.
The NNI budget for intervening years was $862 million in 2003 and $961 million in 2004.
How does the United States compare to other government in terms of R&D funding for nanotechnology?
Figure Global Government funding of Nanotechnology
Government funding is pretty evenly split among the four geographies in 2003.
According to Small Times magazine Venture Capitalist firms invested $196.4 million in 45 nanotechnology companies during 2004. Measured by dollars invested, funding decreased significantly from the $301 million invested in 2003. Measured by deal flow, however, investors participated in a record 45 nanotech funding rounds in 2004, up from 34 in 2003. Venture capital firms invested $865.2 million in 126 small tech (nanotechnology, MEMS and Microsystems) deals during 2004, down from $982.5 million in 2003. However, the number of deals was up slightly over the 114 done in 2003. The 126 deals accounted for 4.4 percent of all venture funding in the year, up slightly from 4.2 percent in
2003. As far as dollars are concerned, small tech accounted for 4.1 percent of all funding for the year, down from 5.4 percent in 2003.
Representative Small Nanotechnology Firms
ZettaCore, Inc. was founded in 1999 by scientists from the University of California Riverside and North Carolina State University, along with business executives with experience in computer, IT and biotechnology firms. The firm closed its first round of funding late in 2001 and a series “B” round in January 2004 for a total of $23 million. ZettaCore's venture backers include Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Oxford Biosciences, Radius Venture Partners, Access Venture Partners, Garrett Capital/BancOne and Stanford University.
ZettaCore is a molecular electronics company. Molecular electronics researchers try to create molecular-scale features that can function as the circuit elements in microelectronic devices like logic chips, processor chips, and memory chips. ZettaCore is focused on molecular memory applications that reads and writes data by adding and removing electrons off nanometer-sized molecules.
ZettaCore uses a class of molecules known as porphyrins that are organic molecules composed of mostly carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms. Chemists at ZettaCore engineer porphyrin molecules by altering the chemistry of the molecules to store charge (information) in a way that is stable, reproducible, and reversible. When linked in a chain, the molecules can carry either electrical or optical signals, making them useful for everything from optical networks to computing.
Another property they design into their molecules is chemical self-assembly. This allows the molecules to attach only to a particular type of surface (for example, gold, silicon, various metals and oxides), to pack tightly on that surface, and to align properly on the surface for electronic operation. Because of chemical self-assembly, ZettaCore molecular memory chips can be manufactured using equipment and processes common in the semiconductor industry. Molecules are applied to an entire wafer by spraying or dipping and attach only to those exposed surfaces they are designed for. Unattached molecules are simply washed away from the other surfaces.
Nantero, Inc. is a nanotechnology company using carbon nanotubes for the development of next-generation semiconductor devices. Nantero's main focus is the development of NRAM, a high-density nonvolatile random access storage device. The firm believes that NRAM could serve as universal memory replacing all existing forms of storage, such as DRAM, SRAM and flash memory. Nantero's technology is based on research that the company's chief scientist, Thomas Rueckes, did as a graduate student at Harvard University. His solution: a memory each of whose cells is made of carbon nanotubes, each less than one-ten-thousandth the width of a human hair and suspended a few nanometers above
an electrode. This default position, with no electric current flow between the nanotubes and the electrode, represents a digital 0. When a small voltage is applied to the cell, the nanotubes sag in the middle, touch the electrode, and complete a circuit-storing a digital 1. The nanotubes stay where they are even when the voltage is switched off. That could mean instant-on PCs and possibly the end of flash memory; the technology's high storage density would also bring much larger memory capacities to mobile devices. Nantero claims that the ultimate refinement of the technology, where each nanotube encodes one bit, would enable storage of trillions of bits per square centimeter-thousands of
times denser than what is possible today. (By comparison, a typical DVD holds less than 50 billion bits total.) The company is not yet close to that limit, however; its prototypes store only about 100 million bits per square centimeter.
Nantero has partnered with chip makers such as Milpitas, CA-based LSI Logic to integrate its nanotube memory with silicon circuitry. The memory sits on top of a layer of conventional transistors that read and write data, and the nanotubes are processed so that they don't contaminate the accessing circuits. By late 2006, Schmergel predicts, Nantero's partners should have produced samples of nanotube memory chips.
Nantero has received three rounds of venture funding: $6 million in October 2001, $10.5 million in September 2003 and $15 million in March 2005. Investors include Globespan Capital Partners, Charles River Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Stata Venture Partners, and Harris & Harris Group.
Nantero makes switches by creating trenches on a wafer, then coating it with a carbon nanotube film. Using traditional lithography, they pattern and etch the film to create carbon nanotube belts, which may contain hundreds of nanotubes per switch. The belts behave like a single nanotube - they bend, connect and turn off. Once a switch is turned on, van der Waals force ensures it remains there when turned off. It's about 10× faster than flash memory, and unaffected by electromagnetic waves, making it ideal for space and military applications.
Nanochip, Inc. was formed in 1996 to develop MEMS storage chips for consumer electronic applications. On March 8, 2004 the firm announced a $20 million in its Series B financing led by JK&B Capital and joined by New Enterprise Associates, Microsoft and AKN Technology.
Nanochip's core technology is array atomic probes, moved with Micro-Electrical Mechanical System ('MEMS') actuators, combined with ultra-dense, nonvolatile, re-writable media. The process of fabrication is entirely performed by semiconductor fabrication tools in mass production, utilizing silicon wafer substrates. Two wafers containing the "head stack" die on one wafer, and the media on another wafer, are bonded together. This wafer stack is sawed into individual die pairs to form the storage units. Each die pair contains the read/write heads on one die and the other the data storage media. Bit densities of 1 Terabit/in2are typical. The storage substrate utilizes a proprietary technology,
with demonstrated rewrite cycles exceeding 10.. Nanochip will not fabricate the chips itself but plans to license its technology to manufacturers of removable memory devices.
When particles get small enough (and qualify as nanoparticles), their mechanical properties change, and the way light and other electromagnetic radiation is affected by them changes (visible light wavelengths are on the order of a few hundred nanometers). Using nanoparticles in composite materials can enhance their strength and/or reduce weight, increase chemical and heat resistance and change the interaction with light and other radiation. While some such composites have been made for decades, the ability to make nanoparticles out of a wider variety of materials is opening up a world of new composites.
Zyvex Corporation, based in Richardson, Texas, is a molecular nanotechnology company. Zyvex's vision is to be the leading worldwide supplier of tools, products, and services that enable adaptable, affordable, and molecularly precise manufacturing. Zyvex commercializes nanotechnology to address real-world applications with high growth potential. Zyvex carries its scientific breakthroughs into key commercial applications in the area of materials, tools, and structures.
In October 2001 Zyvex was awarded a $25 million, five-year, cost-shared NIST Advanced Technology Program to accelerate the production and commercialization of low-cost assemblers for micro- and nanoscale components and subsystems.
Zyvex's total revenue for 2004 was $8.6 million, which represented a 102 percent increase over 2003. The fourth quarter of 2004 accounted for $4 million and the first quarter of 2005 for $2 million.
Zyvex's NanoSolve Materials product line delivers nano-additives and concentrates that can deliver enhanced thermal, electrical, or mechanical properties by selectively transferring the superior intrinsic properties of carbon nanotubes into composite materials. Zyvex has developed a new surface treatment technology allowing excellent dispersion of Carbon nanotubes in various solvents as well as enhancing the interaction between CNTs and the host matrix.
Zyvex also offers manipulation and testing tools used with scanning electron microscopes, with focused ion beam systems and other microscopes for micro- and nanoscale research, development, and production applications. Further Zyvex offers systems for the development and characterization of active microelectromechanical systems devices. For example MEMulator is a new software product for process emulation and virtual prototyping of MEMS and other semiconductor devices fabricated with IC-style manufacturing techniques.
Nanosys, Inc. is a leader in the development of nanotechnology based products utilizing high performance inorganic nanostructures. Nanosys has built a broad technology platform with more than 300 patents and patent applications covering fundamental areas of nanotechnology. Based in Palo Alto, Calif. and privately held, Nanosys collaborates with industry leaders including Sharp, Dupont, Intel, Matsushita Electric Works and SAIC to develop revolutionary high-value, high-performance products for computing, optoelectronics, communications, energy, defense and the life and physical sciences.
Nanosys' core technology allows it to fabricate nanostructures from one or more inorganic materials, including silicon, silicon germanium, cadmium selenide, gallium arsenide, gallium nitride and indium phosphide. Different inorganic materials can manifest different properties or perform different functions. For example, traditional integrated circuits are made from silicon, while light emitting diodes, or LEDs, are often made from gallium nitride. They can also incorporate two or more materials into each individual nanostructure, forming functional interfaces between the different materials that can provide unique electrical, optoelectronic or physical properties. Nanosys can also control
the shze, shape and surface chemistry of nanostructures.
The NanoBusiness Alliance is the first industry association founded to advance the emerging business of nanotechnology and Microsystems. The NanoBusiness Alliance's mission is to create a collective voice for the emerging small tech industry and develop a range of initiatives to support and strengthen the nanotechnology business community, including: research and education, public policy, public awareness and promotions, forums/panels and industry support. The Advisory Board of the Alliance is headed by the leaders of the nanotechnology community and is headed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and venture capitalists Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher. Their website has links to
over 500 articles and whitepapers on
The Institute for Molecular Manufacturing (IMM) is a nonprofit foundation formed in 1991 to conduct and support research on molecular systems engineering and molecular manufacturing (molecular nanotechnology, or MNT). IMM also promotes guidelines for research and development practices that will minimize risk from accidental misuse or from abuse of molecular nanotechnology.
The Foresight Institute is a nonprofit educational organization formed to help prepare society for anticipated advanced technologies. The organization's primary focus is on molecular nanotechnology: the coming ability to build materials and products with atomic precision.
Foresight's policy is to prepare for nanotechnology by:
- promoting understanding of nanotechnology and its effects;
- informing the public and decision makers;
- developing an organizational base for addressing nanotechnology-related issues and- communicating openly about them; and,
- actively pursuing beneficial outcomes of nanotechnology, including improved economic, social and environmental conditions.
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