Figure I23

A proposed structure for a nanotube field-effect transistor that uses a semiconducting carbon nanotube to govern current transport between source and drain electrodes.

electronic-circuitry functions, they remain clear examples of structures that may benefit from protection under the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act.

It is interesting to consider further extensions of this pattern of development. For instance, a number of similar techniques are also being proposed to be applied to nanoelectromechanical structures (NEMS), which generally include mechanical aspects in the form of moving parts. The way this technology has been evolving blurs the distinction between complex mechanical systems and integrated circuit electronics. The batch fabrication techniques used in integrated circuit manufacture may be adapted to NEMS processing in producing such complex structures as sensors and actuators— the structures that have long been the most expensive and yet least reliable of many larger-scale electronics systems.

What is interesting about these kinds of NEMS structures, at least from the perspective of the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act, is the fact that they do not have purely electronic functionality; they also have a significant mechanical aspect. But this is unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the application of the act. It is still the case that they are intended to perform electronic functions and, as long as they are fabricated using silicon-based technology, will be made from a piece of semiconductor material.

It should be emphasized that these are relatively isolated examples of a wide range of nanotechnology structures that may be afforded protection as mask works. There are other nanotech structures where the application of mask-work protection is considerably less clear. Consider, for example, microfluid-ics devices (see Figure I.24). These devices are used in applications involving very small amounts of fluid, usually on the order of nanoliters. Fluids exhibit decidedly nonintuitive behaviors at such small volumes that are useful in certain applications, most notably a variety of biological applications.

For instance, one class of microfluidics devices are used as DNA chips to investigate how different genetic assays respond to different samples. The goal in these kinds of experiments is to check every possible assay-sample combination, an imposing task whenever there are more than a minimal number of assays and samples to be checked. Microfluidics devices provide an efficient and cost-effective way of completing this task by providing fluid pathways for tiny fluid amounts to check all possible combinations.

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