Nanotech Webinar Appeals to Wide Audience

In subject matter that ranges from the basic to the subtle, webinar provides information interesting to laymen and experts

2 min read

Last week, I joined in a webinar entitled “Small is Beautiful: Everyday Applications and Advances in Nanochemistry,” that was hosted by the American Chemical Society in its Joy of Science series.

I was drawn to the webinar by its scheduled speakers: Andrew Maynard, Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan, and Paul Weiss, Director of California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. But since I was pressed for time and somewhat weary of PowerPoint slides that discuss the Lycurgus Cup. I decided to cut out early and listen to the archived version found at the link at the top of this post.

Despite the webinar's being hosted by the ACS, it seemed to be very much directed at the layman rather than your typical physical chemist. But that too is somewhat misleading; Weiss very subtly raised important distinctions between terms, such as patterning, control, and—most important—function, that might be lost on someone first being introduced to the subject.

Nearly three-quarters of the hour-long webinar is devoted to Q&A, but in Weiss’ final slide, he had written: Most nanomaterials are not precisely defined. We should not treat them as chemicals.

Of course, if we can’t consider graphene to be graphite we are handing ourselves a lot of toxicology work sorting out how it and other nanomaterials interact with biological systems. As Weiss estimates (arguably) that there are currently 100 000 new nanomaterials, it would take us 10 000 years testing with current methods to determine their risk. A nonsensical task, needless to say.

Weiss hints at a more pragmatic and hierarchical approach, in which a grading system is applied to nanomaterials so those that pose the biggest threat and have the least redeeming value are targeted and those with expected low risk and high benefit are fast-tracked (so to speak).

This proposal sort of scans like the Royal Society’s nanotechnology report from eight years ago. 

But aside from the whole environmental, health, and safety discussion, Weiss had some interesting perspectives on the history of nanotechnology’s development.

When Maynard suggested that we are now beginning to see that the macro world that some scientists initially were trying to impose on the nanoscale world—could this be a referral to mechanosynthesis?—were off the mark, Weiss suggested that the field of nanotechnology is actually a throwback.

“At the beginning of the 20th century, they were thinking about atoms and on the single-molecule scale because that was what they were wrapping their hands around with quantum mechanics. We got away from that with the use of ensemble measurements, but as of 30 years ago, when the STM was invented, we’re back again,” explained Weiss.

As I said, I am not really sure who this was all intended for, but it’s all interesting enough that anyone can glean some worthy bits from it.

The Conversation (0)

3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper
Green

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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