Time to Start Using New Examples for Nanotechnology Applications

By using the same examples for the last 10 years for nanotechnology may hint at its lack of commercial development

2 min read
Time to Start Using New Examples for Nanotechnology Applications

At some point in most discussions of nanotechnology and its impact, we get definitions (with or without Greek etymology), it’s current and projected market value and a list of its applications whether they be its current ones or possible ones in the future.

Getting something other than this is sort of like asking someone to describe a spiral staircase without using their hands, it can be done but they have to concentrate for a moment. The same goes for nanotechnology. You can either stop for a moment and consider some new way of describing nanotechnology’s impact or you can do what’s usually done and give the same answers people have been offering for the last 10 years.

Granted the definition part is hard to be creative with, but I am getting pretty tired of seeing the same commercial applications trotted out year after year. The one that has finally got me annoyed is Nanocor’s use of nanoclays in plastics for beer bottles.

I guess what annoys me the most is my own frequent use of this example. I am not angry with myself so much for my lack of imagination, although that’s a factor, but that we are turning to the same commercial applications for examples that we were using 8 years ago.

I was beginning to feel renewed when I saw Russell Cowburn, Professor nanotechnology at Imperial College London (another lab I had the good fortune to tour), liken nanotechnology to Henry Ford’s production line. Cowburn goes on to describe how many people who first saw Ford’s production line mistakenly believed that it was only applicable to automobile manufacturing. He argues that people are making the same mistake today about nanotechnology. It is not restricted to a few specific areas of manufacturing but will one day be ubiquitous. Nicely done.

But my enthusiasm began to wane when I read in the same article Christof Woelcken, nanotechnology expert at Airbus Airframe Architecture and Integration Department, offer up nano-engineered paints for resisting the expansion and contraction of airplane parts as one of the applications for nanotechnology in aviation.

I have argued here myself that we need to understand that it is often the mundane that is interesting when looking at the applications for nanotechnology. But I would almost be more excited if he had talked about structural materials that made the plane lighter or maybe some fuel additives that made the engines more efficient. Of course, what I would really like to hear about is how nanotechnology is finally going to make possible the realization of the HyperSoar plane for commercial aircraft. Not that it's ever been on nanotechnology's list, I am just fascinated with the HyperSoar plane concept.

But I have to remember my own advice and remember also that patience is a virtue.

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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

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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