Friday, April 29, 2005

Nanotechnology– What’s Getting Attention and Investment

In a survey by R&D Magazine about areas of current nanotechnology research, nanomaterials and nanostructures top the list at a 56% reader’s response rate. In second place is nanobiotechnology (25%), followed by nanoelectronics (22%), nanosensors (22%), and nanoscale instrumentation (11%). Nanotechnology is the science of building and designing at the nanometer level at which point the physical properties (magnetism, conductance, optics, and others) of a material changes. For example, nano-level materials can be engineered to provide greater strength than steel but at a lighter weight. Wiring can be developed to provide greater conductivity and less resistance. Changes in optics, magnetism and other properties can make materials stronger, lighter, cheaper, etc.

The R&D magazine survey goes on to discuss instrumentation needs. Microscopy/imaging systems top the list at 48.9% of the readers responding, followed by:

Analytical instruments - 40.1%
Thin-film characterization - 30.5%
Electronic measurements – 28.7%
Physical characterization systems – 26.1%
Optical characterization systems – 25.4%
Topographical measurement systems – 15.8%
Mechanical characterization systems – 14.7%
Magnetic measurement systems – 12.9%
Failure analysis systems – 9.9%

Working at the nano-level will require new instrumentation that can detect signals with greater sensitivity given the low level signals that can be generated. The Atomic Force Microscope is one example of this type of instrumentation.
Pacific Nanotech uses LabVIEW to control the positioning of the machine and the movement of the cantilever device for making measurements. Another example is SSI Robotics who uses LabVIEW for nanotech applications. In this one, they wrote LabVIEW drivers to control the positioning of the robotic system.

The instrumentation industry has responded to the growing research and development in the Nanotechnology area. This article describes the need for greater collaboration between instrument vendors and researchers.

A great deal of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) has been cast over the Nanotech industry. In a recent discussion with a customer who provides aerosol systems which can produce droplets at the nano-level, he indicated his company keeps quiet about their ability to work at the nano-level for fear of negative publicity. There’s an interesting blog on these topics from the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is a well-funded sector with over a $1B per year invested by the US government through the National Nanotechnology Initiative. At that level of funding, there will be more innovations and technologies from this sector.

If you are working in Nanotechnology, I would like to hear from you. Please contact me at hall.martin@ni.com.

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin

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