Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Welcome to Small Tech Talk

Welcome to my Small Times blog. Since this is the first of what will hopefully be many posts, I’d like to briefly share my personal perspective on micro- and nanotechnology and my plans for Small Times as the new Editor-in-Chief. First and foremost, let me assure you that I clearly see the difference between working at very small dimensions and nanotechnology. During my 26+ years working as a technology editor, I have mostly focused on the semiconductor manufacturing industry. To give credit where credit is due, there can be no question that the true pioneers of nanotechnology are semiconductor guys. They have been working at nano dimensions for years -- the thickness of a gate dielectric on advanced integrated circuits in manufacturing today is less than 10 atoms thick, for example – and much of what we know about how electrons and ions and atoms behave at the nanoscale has come from semiconductor research work. Innovations such as the atomic force microscope and the advancements made in carbon nanotube research largely stem for such work as well. There’s a big difference though, between relentless scaling of dimensions as has been the course of the semiconductor industry (at least to date) versus what most consider the real potential of nanotechnology: changing and controlling the very essence of matter itself, often in strange new ways. Richard Feynman described this well in his now famous talk in 1959: “There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom: An Invitation to Enter a New Field of Physics.” http://www.zyvex.com/nanotech/feynman.html What’s happened over the last decade, of course, is that basic semiconductor device research and straightforward materials science has been recast as “nanotechnology” research. In some ways, I think this has been driven by an understandable desire to get on the nanotech bandwagon in order to not miss out on billions of dollars in government and VC funding. But it’s also because the semiconductor industry’s scaling has reached some fundamental limits. A new “switch” needs to be found, and nanotech offers up a tantalizing array of possibilities. A good overview of this can be found on the Intel website: http://download.intel.com/technology/silicon/nano-open-house-george-bourianoff.pdf I’ll be talking/blogging about all these kind of things, as well as some of the nonsense related to the perceived threat to public health safety posed by nano. I’ll also be zeroing in on some the dynamic work now underway at the university level. The focus of Small Times magazine, however, will be less on gee-whiz nanotech and more on practical applications and the manufacturing know-how that's used to produce devices for those applications. Progress in Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) in particular will be highlighted. Everyone seems to define MEMS a little differently, but to me it’s an amalgamate of many diverse functions, from accelerometers to microfluidics, from energy harvesting piezoelectric devices to fuel cells, from RFMEMS to wireless sensors. As always, let me know what you think. You can reach me by phone at 603-891-9217 or e-mail at psinger@pennwell.com.

1 comment:

blaisemouttet said...

Glad to see SmallTimes on the blogging bandwagon. I've been tracking the recent patent landscape of tinytech at my blog tinytechip(http://tinytechip.blogspot.com/).

As far as new switching mechanisms go my bet is on the "memristor" (i.e. memory resistor) materials to make a big impact in the next few years. Researchers at HP have popularized these materials in a recent Nature article and much work has been done in the past decade in nanoscale non-volatile memory and programmable logic architectures using resistance switching materials. Additional future applications of memristors may include signal processing, pattertn recognition, and programmable filters useful t robotics and neural interface applications as detained in my knol at http://knol.google.com/k/blaise-mouttet/programmable-electronics-using/23zgknsxnlchu/2#