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The next tiny big thing: the state of nanotechnology in the world and in Israel

Nanotechnology sounds like science fiction. But the promise is real * At the Holon Technological Academic Institute, extensive activity is carried out in the fields of nanotechnology, microelectronics and electronic materials.

David Ewalt, InformationWeek

Close your eyes and think small. Think smaller than the head of a pin, smaller than the tip of a pin. A red blood cell is a whole world. Calculate all the way down to one billionth of a meter; A measure in which oxygen and carbon atoms appear the size of baseballs.

Now imagine that you collect these atoms and build a machine. A row of carbon forms a thread. Atoms of silver are teeth in action. A network of nickel and cadmium creates electricity. The finished product is a motor or a pump, or a microprocessor, or an entire robot - millions of times smaller than any comparable device today.

The promise of nanotechnology is as great as its products are small. Like the Internet, artificial intelligence, and atomic energy in their early days, nanotech has a vibrant following as to how fundamentally it will change the world. Some envision supercomputers the size of a pencil eraser, working 10 times faster than today's fastest computers.

And in a grim twist, some warn that nanotech could lead to a loss of control and the unintentional destruction of all life, atom by atom. But nanotech's dirty little secret, if there is one, is that it's already here. The time to consider its implications is now.

True, still can't buy a computer for the tip of your pencil. And AI has yet to be proven to deliver on its earth-shaking promise, and it appears that it will take a lot more than clever lab experiments and big ideas to revolutionize the industry. Still, companies are already creating molecular materials that improve the efficiency of products, proving that nanotech is more than science fiction.

In the meantime, the uses were mainly non-active - such as coatings and additives - and not molecular machines, which no one yet knows how to produce in mass production. But the progress of nanotechnology so far is encouraging.

"The word is starting to appear in the profit column instead of the R&D column of financial reports," says Mark Modzelewski, CEO of the Nano Business Alliance trade union.

The next big step is likely to be the use of nanotech in IT, where the biggest companies are in a hot race for practical applications.

"Almost all scientists here want to see themselves as having worked at the nanoscale for most of their careers," says Tom Theiss, director of physical sciences at IBM's research group. IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, was where scientists achieved one of the milestones of nanotechnology. In 1989, using a scanning tunneling microscope that he built himself, researcher Don Eagler created the smallest logo in the world: single xenon atoms created the "IBM" logo. In doing so, Eagler proved the applicability of building structures at the atomic level.

Around the same time that Eagler was practicing his nano-art, French and German scientists were binding different types of crystals into an ultra-thin, magnetically sensitive film, whose electrical properties changed radically when exposed to a magnetic field.

Today, the nanostructured materials have become the industry standard in hard drive heads, where the ultra-sensitivity allows them to read very small changes in magnetic fields that represent packets of data traveling at high speeds.

A year ago, IBM scientists built a magnetic coating from the element ruthenium. By coating a hard disk platter with a layer just three atoms thick, it will allow disk drives to store 100 gigabytes of data per square inch as early as next year. Today, the maximum capacity of drives is 20 gigabytes.

Coatings of "anti-ferromagnetic broadcast media" work so well that IBM scientists have come to refer to them as "fairy dust".

It may be more surprising how many different types of fairy dust are in use. North Carolina-based Nanotex makes woven fabrics with a nanomaterial, used by clothing manufacturers Eddie Bauer and Lee Jeans, so that liquids leave clothes faster, making them stain-resistant.

Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide nano-powder went on the market last summer. The optical properties of materials vary to such an extent that a sunscreen can reflect or ultraviolet that cannot be seen by the skin.

London-based medical supply company Smith & Nephew manufactures bandages coated with silver nanocrystals that kill bacteria. Nanotech may appear in your refrigerators or cars. Tennessee-based Veridian sells a product called Imperm, a plastic impregnated with nanoparticles of a material that's as hard as glass, less prone to shattering, and better at sealing off gases, so drinks stay fresh. This is what allows Miller Brewery to offer plastic beer bottles from it

two years. General Motors uses nanomaterials in its One Astro and Safari models, making them stronger and lighter than other materials. Glass manufacturers began marketing "self-cleaning" windows coated with dirt-repellent nanoparticles. And a Kodak printer that creates a brighter image using nano-pigments was named Product of the Year for 2002 by the US Printing and Imaging Association.

Now it seems that the conditions are suitable for the growth of nanotech. A survey by the Nano Business Alliance reveals that the industry already generates annual sales of 45.5 billion dollars worldwide, and can prosper to 700 billion dollars in 2008. Some observers believe that the alliance is inflating its numbers to increase the noise around it, but a more neutral study by the US National Science Foundation predicts that the market for nanotechnology products and services will reach a trillion dollars in 2015.

But while investors and technologists disagree on the dollar count, the most burning question for business executives is much more direct: "When."

"Most IT organizations only think two or three years ahead," says John Helmke, CEO of the healthcare services company CareGroup in Boston. "So that nanotech is not on the radar screens of most of the narcissists".

Halmke says that the practical applications of nanotech in which researchers will be really interested, are still far away and will be available only years from now. But smart technology managers should be at the forefront of developments, he says: "What I will do is start to see and recognize that there are explosive technologies that will cause a revolution in our businesses."

Uncle Sam became a big believer and investor in nanotechnology. President Bush's 2003 budget calls for increased spending on nanotech research, including a 17 percent increase in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, to $679 million. The initiative funds university research grants, and Congress is also considering creating public-private research partnerships. "We have to thank the government for giving legitimacy to nanotech," says Modzelevsky of the Nano Business Alliance.

Private investors are not as optimistic as Bush. Venture capital companies have invested 296.5 million dollars in nanotechnology since 1999, according to Vanchervan and Ernst & Young. This is only slightly more than the amount raised at this time by one telecom equipment company, the switch manufacturer Caspian Networks.

Few venture capital investors are excited about nanotechnology, because only a few large companies buy nanotech products; Something venture capitalists want to see before they invest, says Steve Bengston, director of emerging company services at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Bengston estimates that 9 out of 10 venture capital funds think that it is still too early to invest in nanotechnology. In the meantime, research by military officials, universities and plenty of corporate laboratories - not by privately funded start-ups - is expected to lead the way. In March, the US Army Research Office announced that it would fund an institute for military nanotechnologies at MIT in an effort to create equipment such as body armor that can change colors for camouflage on the ground. And at the Department of Energy, a prototype anthrax detector uses a tiny hot plate to vaporize airborne particles so that microelectronic sensors can sniff the vapors from the plate and detect dangerous components.

But you have to go a long way from university research to big business. Among those trying to profit from this is Hongze Dei, who left his native China to study physical chemistry at Columbia and Harvard, and is now a professor at Stanford University. Last year Day founded the company Molecular Nanosystems with an angel investment of 2 million dollars and the licenses from a number of patents he received on behalf of the university. The Palo Alto, California-based company is working on commercial applications, including a nano-sniffer that it will build from carbon nanotubes.

Carbon nanotubes are considered one of the building blocks of future electronic components. These nanotubes are usually made from a sheet of graphite (itself a strong network of carbon molecules) rolled into a long, thin cylinder that looks like a rolled-up network. Each intersection of the mesh consists of a single atom, so the entire tube is only 1 billionths in size

meter. Products made of nanotubes - such as chemical sensors or inexpensive and low-power displays for PDAs - are expected within two to four years, say Molecular Nanosystems executives.

Nanotubes arouse so much excitement because they are strong and flexible, and have electrical and mechanical properties that have excited scientists since their discovery by the Japanese researcher Sumio Lejima in 1991. They are also extremely sensitive to chemicals, and change their electrical conductivity when exposed to various gases. . This is the principle behind the sensing devices proposed by Molecular Nanosystems. In the IT world, scientists are looking for ways to use nanotubes as semiconductors. Integrated circuits made from them could be 1,000 times smaller than today's components, and operate at higher speeds. Another expected component of these tiny circuits is nanowires, which resemble nanotubes. In February, chemist Feidong Yang from the University of California, Berkeley, successfully built a "super-grid" nanowire; A single weave of material is 2,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Depending on its configuration, a single nanowire can control electrical current, emit light, heat or cool a device, or store information, says Larry Bock, president and CEO of Nanosys, which Yang co-founded. The tiny wires could be used as components for more complex devices, potentially allowing engineers to build smaller electronic and apathetic hardware. But one of the problems with this technology is production quality. No one has yet found a way to build the large quantities of high-quality, uniform nanotubes that will be needed to create the nanocircuits needed for advanced nanotechnology-based devices. That's at least a decade away, although manufacturers promise that less sophisticated products will be available within a year or two.

The computer industry needs nanotechnology because it is anticipating the end of one of the great money machines of the last century: Moore's Law. The ability to steadily increase the amount of data entering the microprocessor provided the industry with ever-increasing computing power and speed, which led to even more powerful products and was a strong upgrade driver for customers. But at some point, the miniaturization process collided with the physical limits of silicon.

Researchers at Hewlett-Packard are trying to figure out what they can do with nanowires and switches, once scientists can find a way to prepare them for real-world use. Phil Keoks, a member of the Quantum Science Laboratory at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, describes it as molecular electronics. "We believe that it will be possible to reinvent the integrated circuit and extend Moore's Law for several more decades," he says.

But why stop there? Why not rebuild the computer itself? Last November, the professor of chemistry from Harvard University, Charles Lieber, published an article in Nature magazine, in which he described how he used nanowires to build logic gates - simple switches that are the heart of all modern processors.

The resulting nanocomputer had only 16 transistors and performed only a basic connection operation, but it is a first step toward the most amazing application of nanotech: the science-fiction promise of supercomputers the size of a pencil lead.

And back in the real world; Reinventing an industry requires more than just coming up with new products. People need to incorporate new technologies into their businesses, and that will take time even when the products are built. "The problem with a revolution in IT is that whatever you do, you must either replace the overall system or integrate what you have within a highly complex infrastructure that already exists",

says Theis from IBM. "Making big changes in old businesses takes time."

It also requires overcoming the skeptics - and responding to the risks. The most threatening and hovering risk surrounding nanotechnology is the idea that, because of their tiny size, nanomaterials will penetrate biological systems and contaminate them.

Concerns range from cancer or genetic mutation, to the risk of substances seeping into groundwater and destroying an entire ecosystem.

The scariest of all is the theory presented by Bill Joy, co-founder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, that nanotechnology could destroy the world.

If, as some terrorists say, future nano-sized robots will be able to self-replicate by pulling the atoms they need from their environment, the robots will be able to destroy any physical structure. Joy, who first introduced the nightmare in Wired magazine two years ago, described a scenario in which these robots go out of control, eating the world in a frenzy of replication until the earth becomes a planet mass of gray matter.

Paranoia, a pilot from BMW rejects it. And as for environmental concerns less than doomsday, nanotech supporters respond that the technology will turn production on its head, by producing less waste. Theiss points to a process used to make computer chips today. "What we are doing now is to distill a huge crystal of silicon, cut it into slices, burn it with caustic substances, heat it, and vaporize substances into it." In contrast, nano-fabricated chips will essentially be grown from within the atom, producing almost no waste, will not require any toxic chemicals, and will use less electricity in the manufacturing process, Theiss says.

Despite the risks and obstacles, nanotechnology will change business computing - and cause a revolution in several industries.

How much, and when? David Swain, chief technology officer at Boeing, believes that nanotech will eventually cause a revolution in aviation safety, allowing engineers to build "super-intelligent" planes full of nanotech sensor devices that connect to a supercomputer.

He does not know when we will fly in nanojets &#;8211 probably in at least 10 years - but today he is cultivating the interest of technology managers on the subject.

"We want to stay close to it, encourage it, ensure that we have people talking to scientists around the world" says Swain. "Then when it is available, our engineers will have an advance and an advantage."

Frame in the article:

Nanotechnology - also in Israel

At the Holon Technological Academic Institute, extensive activity is carried out in the fields of nanotechnology, microelectronics and electronic materials.

Dr. Gadi Golan, head of the microelectronics and thin layers laboratory at the Holon Institute of Technology, says that the variety of topics in the field of microelectronics has expanded greatly in the last decade, and as a result unique subfields were born, such as: thin layers for microelectronics applications, nanomaterials for microelectronics applications -Electronics, etc.

The microelectronics trend in the electrical and electronics engineering department focuses on vacuum technologies, thin layers, dedicated IBM, photo-lithography, device identification, electrical evaluation of device performance, and summary and scientific report on measurements and device performance.

The offered program is unique in that it trains graduates for the hi-tech industry in the field of microelectronics, thin layers and applications of nanomaterials in electronic devices.

Among Dr. Gadi Golan's prominent studies: innovative thermal treatment for the recovery of thin layers after violent evaporation processes such as spraying or grafting; Innovative technology for creating thin layers using an ion beam. vaporization using an ion beam in an enriched plasma; Growth of mixed thin layer structures using ion sputtering; Transparent electrodes of the tantalum oxide (monoxide) type in ion spraying, and more. In the tribology laboratory and materials engineering center at the Holon Academic Institute of Technology, headed by Dr. Lev Rapoport, many studies are carried out, such as testing the tribological properties of new nanomaterials.

The aim of the research is to evaluate friction and wear mechanisms of nanomaterials, and to develop innovative tribological uses for nanoparticles. This research was previously supported by the Bird Foundation, and now by the Ministry of Science, the American Chemical Society, and General Motors. In the research of the Ministry of Science, Dr. Rapoport serves as the center of the project between three groups from the Weizmann Institute, the Technion and the Holon Academic Technological Institute.

In the other two studies, work is carried out in partnership with a group of scientists from the Weizmann Institute headed by Prof. basket. The research is based on a work that was recently published in the magazine Nature, and is widely reviewed in the scientific and daily press. Also, this work was chosen as one of the discoveries of the year by the American Physical Society in 1997.

Following the joint work of the Holon Technological Academic Institute with the Weizmann Institute group, a new company called Applied Nanomaterials was established to deal with tribological applications of IF particles.

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