The Academic Nano Niches

Several "nano-niches" that appear most obvious today are outlined below. There are, of course, many other concepts emerging from the fertile frontier of miniaturization that are not easily categorized. Perhaps other significant niches will emerge in this new dimension of material control and behavior.

Nano-Niche #1

Objectives for enhancing electronic devices have been the basis for many nanotechnology programs. The nanotechnology efforts in programs such as molecular electronics have been pursued for decades with little impact on the electronics industry thus far. The more conservative microelectronics industry continues to pursue CMOS and is skeptical of radically new ideas that may deviate from its International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) (Semiconductor Industry Association 2001) for a number of years in the future (Glimmell 2001). This is one area of nanotechnology that could benefit from a significant overlap with expertise in the electronics and information technology communities. Goals of forming molecular computers have appeared in a number of places. The physical realities one must meet to achieve such goals have been mentioned in a number of papers (e.g., Keyes 2001a; Meindl 1995, 1996; Meindl, Chen, and Davis 2001; Semiconductor Industry Association 2001). Molecular transistors have recently been fabricated (Bachtold et al. 2001; Schon, Meng, and Bao 2001). They have even been incorporated into circuits that can be used for logic operations (Bachtold et al. 2001). The challenges facing this nano-community now are very similar to those facing the semiconductor industry (see the Roadmap). These two communities will begin to work together cooperatively for a common goal. Innovative methods for incorporating new nanostructures into more conventional circuits will probably be the outcome of these interactions. The chemical and biological influences on the nanostructure of semiconductors is just beginning to be recognized (Whaley et al. 2000). Of course, alternative architectures for computational tasks represent a likely path for new breakthroughs. The brain of living species represents proof that such alternative architectures exist. It is through the innovation of these communities that such advances are likely to be introduced.

Nano-Niche #2

Research in nanostructures associated with biomolecular science is well recognized and proves to be a fertile field for a nano-niche. Biomolecules are often large and qualify as "nanostructures." Introduction of the tools and experience of chemists and physicists, even electrical engineers, in pursuing this mainstream of nanotechnology offers many opportunities for the synergism of multidisciplinary research in biology, biotechnology, and medicine. A biology student pursuing research with the tools of nanotechnology enters biomedical frontiers that include ability to fabricate sensors for the rapid, inexpensive detection of environmental hazards and disease organisms and to fabricate biomolecules with an objective to target selective cells (such as cancer cells) for modification of their function (Alivisatos 2001). Miniature chemistry laboratories are being fabricated on chips. These tools are likely to find applications in the task of sequencing genetic codes, of importance for medical purposes. This nano-niche includes the disciplines of chemistry, physics, biomolecular engineering, and even electrical engineering. One caution is worth noting. The ability to create new microbes, viruses, etc., in this field could lead to new biological species that present risks. As stated elsewhere, "The main risks for negative societal implications of nanotechnology will probably continue to be in the area of biotechnology rather than electronics" (Doering 2001, 68).

Nano-Niche #3

The field of materials science has always been a multidisciplinary endeavor. This is no less true for materials composed of nanostructures. One recent article points out the value of porous silicon as a stimulus to educational opportunities in electronics, optoelectronics, microoptics, sensors, solar cells, micromachining, acoustics, medicine, biotechnology, and astrophysics (Parkhutik and Canham 2000). A new material may be prepared using a variety of fabrication techniques from a number of disciplines and find applications in a number of technologies, accounting for the value of such a field for introducing breadth to the student experience. Of course, the depth from such an endeavor comes from advancing the knowledge about a given material using the tools from various scientific disciplines. Since new materials are of interest due to the possible substitution in an existing science or technology, the multidisciplinary aspect of materials will always exist.

Nanotechnology as a Stimulus to Inquiring Minds

As a stimulus for education in the sciences, nanotechnology has led to a wealth of fascinating scientific revelations. Attracting young inquiring minds has been the subject of an NSF-supported consortium project at Arizona State University in conjunction with other universities. This project, Interactive Nano-Visualization in Science and Engineering Education (IN-VSEE), may be viewed at http://invsee.asu.edu/. The goal of this program is to bring the excitement of discovery with electron and scanning tunneling microscopy into the classroom, targeting students in upper-level high school through college. At this level, the attraction of the multidisciplinary aspects is obvious. The subject of nanotechnology as a basis to illustrate scientific principals is likewise clear.

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