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Technology Intelligence

Nanotechnology

This website was prepared during an attachment programme at ECMS, Singapore. The report below aims to set out a taxonomy of nanotechnology to aid in patenting purposes, and allow exploitation of the intellectual property involved in nanotechnology in the years to come.

This document is divided as follows:

1.0 Nanotechnology

2.0 Nanotechnology Taxonomy

2.1 Medicine
2.2 Data Storage
2.3 Molecular Nanotechnology
2.4 Computing
2.5 Defense

3.0 Selected Patents

4.0 References

5.0 Helpful links

1.0 Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is the term given to technology at the very smallest level, dealing with technologies the size of a few nanometers. It also includes the development and use of devices at the level of atoms and molecules. As defined by the National Science, Engineering & Technology (NSET) Initiative, nanotechnology is "Research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1 - 100 nanometer range, to provide a fundamental understanding of phenomena and materials at the nanoscale and to create and use structures, devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size..."

The development of nanotechnology has introduced many new applications and possibilities. It is a synthesis of the different aspects of engineering, chemistry, physics and biotechnology, to name a few. It is also an area of research and development that is highly multidisciplinary and diverse. Although nanotechnology is still a relatively undeveloped area at the present moment, it shows great potential for development in various fields.

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2.0 Nanotechnology Taxonomy

As nanotechnology encompasses a vast number of widely disparate disciplines, diverse applications, and results in a great variety of products and devices, there is a motivation to establish a nanotechnology taxonomy. However, to date, the taxonomies available are varied to suit the various purposes of their sources.

A taxonomy for nanotechnology may then be used to:

analyze and examine what the applications of nanotechnology are; 

provide a background for companies to study;

identify opportunities for future development in a particular area.

A possible classification scheme for nanotechnology is by the field of application. This taxonomy is prepared with the proviso that, as the field is very new, a lot of the technology outlined is still in the developmental or conceptual stage. It has been prepared with the aid of several internet resources (see References). The focus has been on official reports set out by research organizations. While there is much good material that may be relevant to this report on non-officially backed sites, a lot still borders on science fiction. This fiction may well become fact in the near future, but the uncertainty has led to its omission.

This taxonomy firstly outlines the various fields of application possible. Within some of the larger fields, it then moves to some specific applications in detail.

Nanotechnology, many suggest, has potential applications in any possible field. Some examples include:

Medicine
Data Storage
Molecular Nanotechnology
Computing
Defense
Space Development
Textiles
Environment and Sanitation
Robotics

Of these areas, more specific applications and technologies are considered for medicine, data storage, molecular nanotechnology, computing and defense. These areas are considered as the applications have been more thoroughly considered, and research has commenced at the present time.

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2.1 Medicine

Regulation of blood stream signals

Nanobots can be inserted into the bloodstream to help regulate blood stream signals. The regulation of blood stream signals can help combat problems like obesity for example. Recent discoveries suggest problems like obesity are caused more by hereditary biological factors rather than lifestyle problems. The nanobots could, for instance, be one-fifth the size of a red blood cell.

Microfluidics

Microfluidics research deals in the handling of extremely small volumes of liquid, typically using MEMS (Micro-ElectroMechanical Systems) based technology developed in silicon. Put together with in-device chemical sensors, these devices can address dosage fluctuation issues by varying drug levels in the body in real time. These devices represent a very attractive alternative to the spikes in drug concentration often seen from periodic dosing. The spikes represent a high risk for drugs with slim margins between efficacy and toxicity. With microfluidics, they could be eliminated. Research is being carried out by several universities, as well as iMedd, Microchecs, Debiotech, and Issys.

Nanostructure Materials

These are essentially materials that would help heal damaged parts of the body. They are expected to be especially helpful in areas such as burns and bone and skin replacement. Integra artificial skin is already used to heal burns. In 2001, when it was first used in the USA, the death rate from serious burns dropped from 100% to 40% in patients with burns covering more than 70% of their bodies.

Medical Sensors

Examples include eye sensors and fluidic sensors, which could monitor levels of change in the body. One company doing some work on this is ISSYS, which plans to sell its product in the near future.

Nanocomputer to Form an Artificial Immune System

This could work against parasites and cancer. An examples nanomachines which mimic white blood cells by entering tissues that interact with cells.

Nanoencapsulation

This would create inert drugs capable of interacting with cells selectively. As a result, only diseased cells would be attacked, leaving others behind.

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2.2 Bulk Persistent Data Storage

Mechanical Storage

This would cork on magnetic regions as small as 20 nanometres. Densities of 120 GB per square inch would then become a possibility. Writing would occur through using a series of mechanical needles which would punch holes in a thin plastic film. The read and write speeds would be extremely fast, at up to 250 MB/s. Although the technology is still in the lab, and the commercialization timeframe is not known, this or a similar approach could well reach the market by 2006. Depending on the price point, this technology could appear as both fixed and removable media solution.

Optical Storage

In order to achieve the densities necessary to replace magnetic media, holographic technologies are also being explored. Using volumes rather than surfaces to store data, nanoscale engineering is not required. Holograms record the inference patterns of multiple coherent light sources. They record through the depth of the media, using three dimensions of storage. Companies such as Lucent are already developing products; they hope to be able to store 1 TB of information. Optware, a Japanese company, are also looking at the same capacity of storage. There are alternatives, such as using a bioactive molecule, but these appear to have few real advantages over holographic methods.

Molecular Storage

Molecular storage could achieve much higher densities than holographic and micromechanical storage. It often relies on a bistable molecule, representing a bit of data, with an energy barrier separating the two states, and an electrical charge to manipulate the molecule.

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2.3 Molecular Nanotechnology

Assembler

An assembler is a molecular machine that can be programmed to build virtually any molecular structure or device from simpler chemical building blocks. It can be described as a submicroscopic robotic arm.

Carbon Nanotubes

These would form the basis of most molecular nanotechnology, with a multitude of diverse applications.

Diamond Construction

This involves arranging carbon atoms in the same configuration as the carbon atoms found in diamond. This area shows potential to work as the backbone of an optical telecom network. As diamond construction becomes cheaper, diamonds could be put to more uses to exploit its physical and chemical properties.

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2.4 Computing

Power consumption

Several companies are already considering nanotechnology as a means of cramming 1 billion transistors onto one chip by 2007. Intel, for example, is currently integrating 4 Itanium nodes and 2 processors cores with 120 million transistors with a serial cache between 12 and 16 MB and a multi-core Enterprise processor.

Molecular Electronics : Chemical-based logic switches

Significant advances have already been made in this field. Hewlett Packard claimed, in September 2002, to have created the highest density electronically addressable memory to date, with a 64-bit memory using molecular switches and an area of less than one square micron. Using molecular switches, the researchers created a master mould of eight 40-nm wide parallel lines pressed into a polymer layer on a silicon wafer to make eight parallel trenches. After filling these trenches with platinum to form wires, the scientists deposited a single layer of electronically switchable molecules onto the surface. The potential in this area is huge, as it promises to conserve space and hence, create more powerful computing solutions.

Mechanical Computing

Mechanical computing devices are not new. In fact, the first known computing device did not use electronics at all. The difference engine, created by Charles Babbage in 1822, was solely mechanical. The device, which required close to two thousand parts, served the single function of fixing entries for tables on the steam engine.

Inspected more closely, this may be a late 21st century innovation since the theoretical advantages of mechanical logic are counterbalanced by the challenge of fabrication. Codesta is not aware of any company presently building a nanomechanical computer. Work by Ralph Merkle, currently at Zyvex, on helical logic represents one such approach. His work, which focuses on inorganic assembled nanoscale devices, explicitly depends on manufacturing technology that is in the early research phase and is therefore viewed as decades from fruition.

Quantum-based Electronics

One approach to the quantum limit barriers in conventional silicon technology is to embrace the quantum effects and design devices around them. Single-electron devices and quantum spin devices are under investigation in many labs. The single-electron transistor, designed with a small number of electrons in mind, is one example of a nano-technological approach combining a new scale factor with reduced power consumption. Room-temperature single-electron transistors fabricated with conventional silicon chemistry have been demonstrated and several other approaches are being pursued. The technology is challenging to commercialize for many reasons, and estimates place the timeframe about 10 years out. Companies actively involved in this work include Toshiba, Hitachi, NEC and NTT.

Diodes

Scientists at the University of Berkeley have done specific work in this field. The focus thus far has been on constructing light-emitting diodes. The researchers have found a way to mate different materials along the length of a single nanowire using manufacturing techniques common in the semiconductor industry. With this ability, a single nanowire could be a complete device, incorporating transistor junctions, light-emitting diodes and even lasers. Nanowire devices could soon be routinely and cheaply built using little more than a special mixture of gases deposited on a foundation material – some predict a nanowire device could be on the market within three to four years.

Nanotransistors

Some physicists in the Netherlands have already built a transistor based on a carbon nanotube. Using individual molecules as functional electronic devices is something the electronics industry has been researching for some time. The Dutch team were able to switch the nanotube from a conducting to an insulating state by applying a voltage. Room-temperature operation is a major step towards practical applications.

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2.5 Defense

Clothing

Interesting strides have been taken in this direction. Of particular interest is a plan by MIT to create an Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN). Applications focus on clothing in the short-run, with potential for a molecular "exoskeleton" for soldiers. Ideas include almost invisible medical casts, gloves for combat, and a molecular chain mail that could deflect bullets. The ISN also expects to create gear which could shield soldiers from biological and chemical weapons.

Bionanobots

Bionanobots might be designed so that, when ingested from the air by humans, would assay DNA codes and self-destruct in an appropriate place (probably the brain) in those persons whose codes had been programmed. Nanobots could attack certain kinds of metals, lubricants, or rubber, destroying conventional weaponry by literally consuming it.

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3.0 Selected Patents

QS.Rank Patent No. Title Owner QS.Index
1. US5,983,200 Intelligent agent for executing delegated tasks Slotznick, Benjamin (Unassigned) 1131
2. US6,049,819 Communications network incorporating agent oriented computing environment Nortel Networks Corporation 578
3. US6,065,039 Dynamic synchronous collaboration framework for mobile agents Mitsubishi Electric Information Technology Center America, Inc. 363
4. US5,963,447 Multiple-agent hybrid control architecture for intelligent real-time control of distributed non-linear processes Hynomics Corporation 360
5. US6,076,099 Method for configurable intelligent-agent based wireless communication system Chen, Thomas C. H. (Unassigned) 288

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4.0 References

  1. Ralph C. Merkle, "Nanotechnology: What Will It Mean", The Spectrum, January 2001. Available: http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/resource/speakm.html.
  2. Outlines some of the applications possible in nanotechnology.

  3. http://www.codesta.com/knowledge/market/nanotech/part_two_markets/page_03.jsp.
  4. Covers applications in several different areas, especially medicine and data storage.

  5. http://www.foresight.org/Nanomedicine/NanoMedFAQ.html
  6. Examines some of nanotech’s medical applications in detail.

  7. http://www.smalltimes.com/document_display.cfm?document_id=1433
  8. Considers medical sensors and their potential.

  9. http://www.nanoelectronicsplanet.com/nanochannels/products/article/0,,10460_1482341,00.html
  10. Article on nanotech in power consumption.

  11. http://www.globaltechnoscan.com/13thFeb-19thFeb02/nanotech_development.htm
  12. Research on nanotech diodes.

  13. http://physicsweb.org/article/news/2/5/4
  14. Research on nanotech transistors.

  15. http://www.zdnet.com.au/newstech/enterprise/story/0,2000025001,20264052,00.htm
  16. Potential for nanotech in clothing.

  17. http://news.com.com/2102-1082-869330.html
  18. As above.

  19. http://www.east.isi.edu/~rriley/PlausibleFutures/Infowar,%20Nanowar%20and%20Exotic%20Weapons.htm

A look at some defense applications of nanotechnology.

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5.0 Helpful Links

http://www.zyvex.com: Website of Zyvex, a frontrunner in the nanotechnology area.

http://www.nanoelectronicsplanet.com: A look at some nano-electronic applications, replete with breaking news.

http://nanotech-now.com/: Regular updates on nanotech developments.

http://www.nanotechweb.com: As above.

http://www.codesta.com: Useful information on several nanotech-related fields. 

http://www.merkle.com: Personal website of Ralph C. Merkle, influential in the nanotechnology field.

http://www.nano.gov: National Nanotech Initiative

http://www.dur.ac.uk/~des0www2/mecentre.html: Centre for Molecular Electronics, Durham University

http://www.tcd.ie/Physics/Molecular_Electronics/: Materials Ireland Polymer Research Centre

http://cerberus.dimes.tudelft.nl/index.html: Nanotech Project, University of Delft.

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This website was prepared by Aditya Basrur in February 2003 for personal and academic use. Tralvex Yeap and Serena Pang assisted greatly in the report's preparation.