Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls in Nanotech

The closing of UK nanotech research centers should serve as cautionary tale for other regions

2 min read
Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls in Nanotech

Tim Harper has been covering what he describes as the “Death of UK Nanotech” over at his TNTLog and I hope it serves as a cautionary tale to other regions of the world on the pitfalls of certain nanotechnology development strategies.

Harper quotes a recent assessment of UK Science Minister David Willets who commented that it would be “most unlikely” that the UK’s 24 nanotech centers will still be open in 18 months.

The problem appears to be one of politics. In an effort to allow every region of England to be part of the economic transformative power of “the next big thing”, they built 24 separate nanotech centers rather than focusing their resources into one or two large labs, like France did with their Grenoble innovation cluster.

While the US nanotechnology initiative has been far less diluted in its focusing of resources, just taking into account just the dimensions of the two countries, there is still that troubling catering to constituencies that you get in representative democracies.

Evidence of this was seen at the President’s Council on Science and Technology (PCAST) meeting to examine innovation frameworks for nanotechnology in which the story was related of how the National Science Foundation with just a couple of million dollars set aside was looking to develop new instrumentation technologies, and splitting that money between 13 bids. The likely result being that not one of the projects will be able to progress very far in developing any new instruments but it may satisfy some notion of spreading the wealth.

Since TNTLog first started covering this story both Frogheart and TNTLog have noted that this closing down of at least some of the 24 nanotech centers may be old news and its current discussion being just another political ploy.

That said, whether the demise of these research facilities is new or old news there are lessons to be learned from their unraveling.

The Conversation (0)
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Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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