NSTI NanoTech 2007: May 2007 Archives
Everyone was in high spirits at the Invest Australia booth following the news of a multimillion dollar nanotechnology funding boost by the Australian government.
Officials hope that the AUD$21.5mn investment will capture the full benefits of Australian nanotechnology and at the same time address health, safety and environmental issues. According to Invest Australia, the country has over 60 nanotechnology-based companies and around 90 research groups working in the area.
"A national strategy means that we can put everything together, which makes it easier for people, especially people overseas, to find out what's going on in Australian nanotechnology." Fred Welz, Invest Australia's senior investment commissioner for North America, told nanotechweb.org. "The goal is to encourage more innovation and to support the industry."
Jason Haaheim of NanoInk attempted to put the myths surrounding dip pen nanolithography to rest by reassuring NSTI's nanofab audience that the technique suits high throughput.
Rather than using a single tip to write nano-features on samples such as gold, glass, silicon and gallium arsenide, NanoInk has devised a 55,000 tipped array that can pattern in parallel.
Haaheim reckons that a feature size of just 15 nm is possible with equipment costing as little as $200,000. Applications include the patterning of samples for biomolecular attachment and for the anchoring of carbon nanotubes.
Looking at the writing process in detail, it turns out that water in the air is the magic ingredient. Moisture condenses into a meniscus around each tip as the "ink" coated nano-pens touch the substrate surface. Once contact has been made, the meniscus helps to diffuse ink from the surface of the tip on to the sample.
A self-described technology optimist, Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures charmed today's packed theatre audience at the co-located CleanTech keynote. To the delight of entrepreneurs in the auditorium, Khosla rephrased the "energy crisis" as being more of a "technology problem". He added that the scale of the challenge has opened his eyes to the scale of the opportunity.
"How much risk do we want to take with our planet?" asked Khosla. "Coal is like fast food - cheap and accessible, but hazardous to our health"
Affordable biofuels appear to be Khosla's big hitter, but nanotechnology remains on the agenda with investments in start-ups such as Nanostellar. The Californian firm has announced that its catalysts could cut diesel emissions by 40%.
Morphing planes that steer by bending and lightweight air taxis were just a couple of the concepts grabbing people's attention this afternoon. These ideas may be a few years away, but as Sharon Smith, Lockheed Martin's director of advanced technology, highlighted - aerospace products represent a huge market for nanotechnology.
In the shorter term, it's likely that the automotive sector will be the first to benefit from advances in the field. "With new car models being launched annually, there are more insertion points for nanotechnology," Smith told the audience.
Scratch resistance coatings and self-cleaning windows are available now, with shock absorbers based magnetic nanoparticles following close behind. Smith added that the high number of vehicles produced each year is likely to reduce the cost of nanotechnology - in the same way that car air bags have driven down the price of MEMS.
Silicon Valley Technology Center (SVTC) chose NSTI NanoTech's expo as the venue for announcing its suite of commercialisation services dubbed FastXfer. Starting with applications such as non-volatile memory and now working with disposable, nanopatterned substrates for DNA anchoring, SVTC helps clients access CMOS fabs.
"Volume foundries are risk averse and extremely cautious about introducing new materials," Scott Marquardt told nanotechweb.org. "They need to know that their customer's process is fully characterised and that's where we come in."
John Hart of the US-based World Technology Evaluation Centre (WTEC) put some figures to the global production of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Hart's industry snapshot was part of a symposium dedicated to defining the CNT sector and chaired by Clayton Teague - director of the US National NanoTechnology Co-ordination Office.
Starting with multiwalled CNTs, WTEC estimates that North America has an installed capacity of 74 tonne/year compared with 170 tonne/year for Asia and 27 tonne/year for Europe. A similar trend follows for the more revolutionary, but harder to produce single walled variety with 1.5 tonne/year for North America, 5.3 tonne/year for Asia and 0.1 tonne/year for Europe.
WTEC's evaluation panel has travelled the world visiting production facilities and is set to publish its findings in full and for free next month. Hart singled out the Tsinghua-Foxconn Nanotechnology Research Centre in China as being one to watch for the future. Funded by Foxconn Technology Group, an assembler of components for Apple, the research centre has filed 700 patent applications over the past 36 months.
Introduced as an "icon" in nanotechnology, Stan Williams wowed a capacity crowd at this morning's nanobusiness event. The former UCLA professor heads up Hewlett Packard's Quantum Science Research Labs - a facility that gazes 10 years ahead of its time to develop the next big thing in imaging, printing and computing.
Hewlett Packard (HP) invests $3 billion in research and development annually and has around 30,000 patents on its books, 2% of which are in nanotechnology.
Williams confessed that from 1997 to 2002 he was on a mission to "prick the bubbles and deflate the hype" surrounding nanotech, but over the next three years HP went silent. Results from the lab convinced management that nanotechnology could be profitable for the electronics giant.
The ponytailed Williams is pretty coy about potential applications, but he did reveal that HP wants to put logic into new areas such as ink jet cartridges.
"We've been working in nanoarchitecture and nanoelectronics," he explained. "We don't want to replace transistors, instead we want to complement them [with new technology] and make hybrid devices with more functionality."
To do this affordably, the team has come up with its own nanoimprinting system that fits into a mask aligner. Last year, the group managed to build a memory prototype with a feature size of just 17 nm and is confident that it can go smaller.
Going back to the manufacturing tool, HP has actually licensed its nanoimprint machine to Nanolithosolution who plans to take the module to market.
Many of Santa Clara's biggest names are taking a serious look at nanotechnology and that includes Intel. William Goddard and his team at California Institute of Technology are working with the chip developer on the design of carbon nanotube interconnects as well as trying to find the best metal substrate for graphene.
“Our approach is to simulate the different nanostructures using first principles and then to build the ones that look like they'll work,” he told a packed audience at this morning’s softnano session.
Goddard's modelling methods have also paved the way for an array of molecular-sized red green blue “colour wheels” that can rotate to render a colour image. Goddard thinks that this could be a smart way of realizing ultra thin, full-colour displays.
Tony Ryan is begging the media to stop using unrealistic images of miniature submarines and robots to promote nanotechnology. Turning his back on the movies, Ryan prefers to take his inspiration from nature. He's on a mission to build bacteria- or sperm-like drug delivery vehicles from self-assembling block co-polymers. Ryan explains that biology does it best and says that there's a lot we can learn from the motion of tiny structures such as e.coli.
Working towards "A molecular delivery device that we might be able to make", Ryan and his group at the University of Sheffield, UK, are busy developing the building blocks that could one day make their dream come true. They have engineered nanoballoons with 2-4 nm thick walls by encouraging a "post-it" style stack of polymer layers to peel off one by one and curl around themselves in solution. The next step for the team is to look at ways of adding an asymmetric tail to its device.
All eyes were on Shell Oil Company president John Hofmeister at NSTI NanoTech's opening keynote. A political scientist by training, Hofmeister's talk was peppered with all of the right buzzwords - carbon neutral, tipping point, hydrogen economy, wind and solar. But how big a role will headline-hitting alternative energies have in satisfying our future energy needs and what part can nano play?
Much like Lawrence Gasman in his book "Nanotechnology applications and markets", Hofmeister also backs the vision that nano's biggest contribution to solving the energy crisis will be in the oil and gas sector. According to Hofmeister, nanotechnology's benefits will be felt strongly in the development of membranes for cleaning-up coal gasification as well as in the formulation of additives for burning fuel more efficiently. Bigger news is that nanoscience could make it economically viable to extract potentially huge amounts of oil from unconventional sources such as sands and shales.
It's not all about oil and gas though and Shell remains involved in fuel cells, wind and solar technologies. Concerning solar, Hoffmeister explained that Shell has recently divested its ten year interest in silicon and is now placing its bets on Cu In Se thin film technology as being the best way forward.
Join the nanotechweb.org team at NSTI NanoTech 2007 from May 20 at the Santa Clara Convention Center, California, US.