Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Nanotechnology has real applications

In looking at an emerging technology one usually finds a wealth of science fantasy swirling around a few scraps of reality. Nanotechnology is no exception. Magazines are full of articles about the promise of Nanotechnology and how it will change our lives in just a few short years. While this may be true, the application scenarios tend to run to the fantastic. One article talks about nanotech-level machines that can crawl through a person's blood vessels and repair damaged tissue. While this makes great copy for the science magazines, it does leave one wondering where are the real applications. In nanotechnology the real applications I have seen so far include semiconductor lithography and biomaterial developments. As optical techniques reach the limits of physics, the semiconductor industry seeks the next level of miniaturization through nanotechnology means. Real companies are using Nanotechnology in real applications here.
Biomaterials, while not as exciting as the nanotech robots mentioned earlier, is another real application. Materials developed on a nanotech-scale develop different and sometimes unique physical propertise compared to the same materials but on a larger scale. Optical, electrical, magnetic, and other properties change for the better at the nano-level. Steel can become stronger, coatings can become more scratch proof, and electrical conductivity can reach greater levels in other materials, to mention just a few.

Virtual Instrumentation is providing solutions in the Nanotechnology area -- again, in the real applications, not the science fantasy world. Atomic Force Microscopes typically use LabVIEW to read the results of cantilever passing over a material. Biomaterials are developed using LabVIEW, data acquisition, and vision tools. The Semiconductor Lithography machine must be calibrated and tested to maintain accuracy in its output. These are just a few examples.

If you are working in the Nanotech world, I would like to hear from you about your real application.

Hall T. Martin

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