November 10, 2009

How Nanoscale Is Revolutionizing Technology And Business

By: by A.E. Kaloyeros, B. Alperson, R. Brilla, R. Geer, S. Brenner, P. Haldar and E.M. Cupoli, CNSE


Published in Semiconductor International on November 1, 2009.

The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) of the University at Albany, New York, is devoted to education and research into the various nanotechnology disciplines. Together with its government and industry partners, CNSE has been performing breakthrough innovations in the field through a cadre of faculty leaders. The following is a collection of insights from some of those leaders, as they explain how nanotechnology is making a difference or promising a revolution in our lives.

Nanoscale Discovery and Innovation

Apple founder Steve Jobs once said that "innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." And in the ever-evolving technology and business landscapes, the mantra for the nanotechnology revolution could be more succinctly and accurately described as "innovate or die."

As nanotechnology-enabled innovations fuel nearly every industry in the 21st century global economy, the complexity and cost associated with research, development and commercialization of game-changing technologies continue escalating exponentially. Concurrently, as scientists and researchers at industrial and university laboratories endeavor to develop and demonstrate new discoveries, they are confronted with dwindling financial resources, an aged infrastructure, and an archaic post-World War II federal funding system, all amid the most challenging worldwide economic climate in decades.

The convergence of ever more intricate technological obstacles and taxing financial constraints is driving a sweeping change in technology development and deployment protocols away from the conventional, individual university- or company-centric Kremlin model to the more intellectually open Acropolis approach. Even the handful of remaining "haves" of global megacorporations and top research universities are migrating toward interdisciplinary, multi-organizational, vertically and horizontally integrated R&D consortia centered on a state-of-the-art, multi-dimensional, Switzerland-type business model. Such a model ensures the pooling of intellectual assets and physical resources necessary to guarantee timely technology demonstration and delivery, while providing the leveled playing field required by each consortium participant to leverage its investments and protect the privacy and confidentiality of its intellectual property and competitive strategy.

In light of this, New York State has implemented a strategic investment policy to position itself as the global leader in nanotechnology. This strategy exploits the combined intellectual and physical resources of its top-flight research universities and leading global corporations to establish technically and financially leveraged public/private partnerships for technology development and economic outreach. Key to this strategy has been the promotion of the nanotechnology burden-sharing, "innovation ecosystem" between global nanoelectronics corporations (IBM, GlobalFoundries, etc.) and CNSE that has resulted in a true Acropolis for discovery, innovation and education in nanoscale science and engineering.

In the pages that follow, some of our top technology executives, senior researchers and scientists offer an inside look at this nanotechnology innovation paradigm. Richard Brilla and Boaz Alperson share new advances in the increasingly enabling area of computer chip packaging; Robert Geer provides an outline of exciting post-CMOS nanoscale device technologies; Sara Brenner and Pradeep Haldar showcase the promise and potential of nanotechnology innovations in, respectively, health care and clean energy; and Edward Cupoli discusses the growing impact of nanotechnology on the world of business and economics.

Charles Darwin remarked, "It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." This rings especially true in today's nanotechnology revolution.

A Healthier and Safer Tomorrow

The emerging science, engineering and application of nanotechnologies to biological systems are undergoing rapid expansion in the United States and abroad. The past few years have yielded unprecedented advances in biotechnology, including chip-based detection methods and human genome sequencing. Nanotechnology applications in medicine and public health will lead to revolutionary advances in targeted drug delivery, imaging, diagnostics, implant technology, regenerative medicine, anti-cancer therapies, infectious disease control, and personalized medicine. The future holds promise of advances in medical interventions and treatments, as well as for the early detection and prevention of disease and illness.

Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize the screening, diagnosis and treatment of disease, giving rise to an emerging discipline: nanomedicine. Research efforts in nanomedicine, such as those underway in our Nanobioscience Constellation, are being developed rapidly at the benchtop and reaching clinical trials and patients. Examples of current medical applications include novel chip-based technologies for diagnostics and high-throughput screening, nanopharmaceuticals, bioMEMS, protein nanoarrays, nanogenomics, nanofluidics, engineered nanostructures for cell and tissue scaffolds, nano-enabled devices for optics, and quantum dots for imaging.

Symbiotic with medical applications is the under-standing of health, safety and environmental impacts of engineered nanomaterials. As the first physician on our faculty, with specialization in preventive medicine and public health, my research targets a series of nanohealth initiatives and research strategies that seek to establish a systematic understanding of the health and safety implications and effects associated with the unique characteristics of nanoparticles. Specifically, there is a focus on assessing and mitigating risk, developing reduction strategies for occupational exposures, improving the definition and monitoring of engineered nanomaterials that may impact public and environmental health, and advancing industrial practice standards for product safety.

We are laying the scientific groundwork to address materials and products arising out of new areas of research that combine traditionally distinct disciplines in science and technology - biology, physics, engineering, medicine and environmental science - through a distinctive interdisciplinary model for business and research. This research demonstrates a proactive approach to identifying, assessing and monitoring the potential health, safety and environmental impacts of engineered nanomaterials. It sets up the concept of internal monitoring and compliance where screening, surveillance and research are done in a collaborative partnership within and among academic, government and corporate institutions, as opposed to the traditional enforcement model involving an outside regulatory entity.

The clinical as well as epidemiological assessment of nanotechnology allow for the analysis of health determinants, goals and outcomes as they relate to both individuals and populations. These considerations, as well as public policy, societal and ethical implications, are critical elements in guiding future applications of nanotechnology in medicine and health.

Nanoelectronics Packaging

Advances in nanoelectronics technology call for new performance-boosting features and architecture enhancements combined with lower power requirements and, if possible, faster clock speeds. The advent of multicore processing has brought about enhanced overall processor performance, while lowering power consumption and improving heat dissipation. Nonetheless, all these benefits come at the expense of increased silicon real estate and escalating manufacturing costs.

In turbulent economic times, with shrinking margins and narrowing markets, the financial realities associated with developing new equipment, processes and materials required for the extension of Moore's Law are daunting. Getting "Moore for less," coupled with the difficulty of simultaneously introducing new manufacturing processes and designs, becomes a formidable task. Moreover, the introduction of low-k dielectrics and their lower thermomechanical stability runs counter to packaging material flexibility and stiffness requirements. The good news is, as the old saying goes, "Good things come in small packages."

In 2010, a new frontier will be crossed into an area traditionally hidden away from the limelight: semiconductor packaging. We see packaging as the next great opportunity to advance significant improvements in overall device performance, bandwidth and manufacturing costs. CNSE plans to establish a world-class packaging center to leverage innovative R&D and enable critical advances in emerging nanoelectronics silicon packaging technologies, accelerating R&D and opportunities for commercialization.

The Computer Chip Hybrid Integration Partnership (CHIP), between CNSE and the SUNY Institute of Technology (SUNYIT) with key corporate partners such as IBM and Sematech, will combine silicon and packaging R&D teams from IDMs, and equipment and materials suppliers to focus and develop 3Di unit process and integrated flow, along with wafer finish, C4, and bond and assembly. The goal is collaboration to bring further resources to bear on common packaging challenges and achieve a greater potential for success using core packaging competence and laminate/chip carrier and critical analytical capabilities. The center will feature thermal and mechanical design and modeling of electronic packaging materials, and focus on materials process development and characterization, and will expand to add reliability evaluation and qualification of flip-chip organic packaging/MLC (HPGC) and 3Di interconnections, as well as advances in failure analysis capabilities.

The packaging center will provide opportunities for comprehensive advances in integrated process flow (FEP/BEP/packaging) development, advanced manufacturability of 3Di, and enhancement of conventional packaging schemes.

In his predictive talk to the American Physical Society in 1959, Richard Feynman noted, "Ultimately, when our computers get faster and faster and more and more elaborate, we will have to make them smaller and smaller." In that spirit and vision, we will also have to package them smaller and better. The CHIP partnership will thus be dedicated to the development of the knowledge and resource base required to support advanced packaging technology.

Nanotech Spurs New Brand of Economic Expertise

Humanity's history is one of innovation and change, but change does not happen at a constant rate. Historically, each new technology introduced over time has penetrated established markets at a faster rate than its predecessor. The time that it has taken successive technologies to penetrate one quarter of the overall U.S. consumer market has declined from 55 years for the automobile to five years for the iPod. Today, we can witness (and study) the birth, introduction, integration and impact of many new technologies in very short periods of time. This is a great new opportunity for the field of economics.

Economics has always been concerned with the transformation of our basic resources to produce goods and services. In this way, the field of economics is closely tied to technology because understanding the complexity of the transformation of resources is crucial to the success of competitive economies. Whenever a new technological wave appears, it is up to economists to comprehend its intrinsic machinery to capture, improve and expand the potential positive economic and societal impacts.

Nanoeconomics focuses on understanding the extent of the change that will occur upon the convergence of many fields of scientific research - the magnitude of which is unprecedented. The extraordinary amount of innovation being generated by nanotechnologies, as a result of the positive cross-linkages between highly competitive industries, is reshaping what we know about social, economic and industrial development. To study nanoeconomics is to study the complexity of a future driven by rapid innovations with far-reaching implications.

This challenging field of study calls for a new breed of multi-disciplinary thinkers. Our Nanoeconomics Constellation aims to create a new kind of professional - one able to deal with accelerating technological change, while understanding the role of all of the actors surrounding science, engineering and R&D. Professionals with this skill set will be best suited to advise and/or lead companies and countries in a global economy. They will become leaders of new nanotech businesses, define global strategies, and drive alliances, consortia and joint ventures involving public, private and academic partnerships.

Post-CMOS Nanoelectronics Innovations

Nanotechnology is clearly recognized as the emerging technological wave. It has the potential to modify radically the way we use our basic resources, make our production methods more efficient, and even to create completely new ways of generating products and services. It is only natural for economists to study the creation and distribution of wealth related to the technological changes brought by nanotechnology. At CNSE, we call this pioneering field "nanoeconomics."

Silicon CMOS nanoelectronics - arguably the world's most transformative technology in terms of economic, cultural and social impact - continues to plunge to ever-smaller device dimensions and expand to ever-increasing levels of integration. And although technologists have long predicted the end of the technological "run" of CMOS advancement embodied in Moore's Law, the fundamental physics of energy dissipation in nanoscale silicon switches and copper wires on today's cutting-edge chips may well be a challenge that cannot be met by silicon nanoelectronics. In fact, it is unlikely that any conventional charge-based switch - no matter what the material - will significantly alter the cost-per-function curve that drives the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), since resistive and capacitive parasitics intrinsic to IC topologies effectively dominate system performance.

Consequently, a new nanoelectronic switch is needed. Considering the enormous cost required to retool an entire industry for such a fundamental technology change, a new switch cannot simply be 30 or 50% faster than, or consume half the power of, its silicon MOSFET counterpart. Its system performance and extendibility must be measured in orders of magnitude. Unsurprisingly, nanotechnology is providing the most provocative solutions to address this challenge.

The core of these solutions - being pursued by many of the world's leading university/industry/government research consortia, such as CNSE's Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery and Exploration (INDEX) - is to exploit nanotechnology to replace multiple CMOS switches with a single nanoscale logic element (i.e., a multi-function nanoscale gate). Perhaps the best example is the use of a single atomic monolayer of carbon (graphene) not as a semiconductor, but as an electron waveguide that can focus and direct electrons much like photons are directed in optical fibers and lenses. This Veselago lens effect (described in 2007 by Cheianov and coworkers) in graphene has the potential to combine devices and interconnects in the same atomic monolayer constituting an ultralow-power field-programmable gate array (FPGA). In this scenario, a single graphene focusing switch plus interconnect could replace as many as 100 conventional transistors.

A similar nanotech-enabled solution to the Moore's Law challenge may come not from manipulating the electron via its charge, but via its intrinsic magnetic properties; that is, its "spin." Spin is an inherently quantum mechanical property. The nanotechnology of spin and magnetism has given us the ability to store more than a terabit of information on hard drives no larger than a wallet. Now, that same nanotechnology may also be able to drive the logic that processes those 1 trillion bits. A dynamically reprogrammable logic gate (proposed by Sham and coworkers in 2007) relies solely on spin-based information transmission, not electric charge. In principle, this type of gate can be employed in a cascading architecture and support the same design fabrics developed for silicon CMOS over the past 20 years while potentially avoiding conventional CMOS power dissipation challenges. The fundamental nanoscale science breakthroughs necessary to explore this potential are also a focus of the INDEX initiative, along with similar research consortia across the globe.

So, while silicon CMOS-based nanoelectronics faces its share of technology challenges, the ever-expanding knowledge base of nanotechnology has no shortage of game-changing alternatives from which to respond.

Revolutionizing Clean Energy

As our ability to manipulate materials and structures on the molecular and atomic levels is poised to enable a new era that affects nearly every industry, the development of innovative devices that generate clean and renewable types of energy is clearly an area that offers significant potential for game-changing improvements.

Nanotechnology is playing an important role in the development of advanced concepts in photovoltaics (PV) technology, where the goal is to reduce cost dramatically. Wafer and thin-film solar cells based on materials such as crystalline silicon, amorphous-nanocrystalline silicon, and copper-gallium-indium-disulfide (CIGS) can benefit from nanotechnology's materials engineering techniques. Researchers are working to improve the performance of organic solar cells made from conducting polymers with the use of nanoengineered materials such as nanorods, nanotubes and quantum dots.

Fuel cells can be made using high-surface-area, platinized carbon nanotube (CNT) electrodes for reduced cost, or with engineered nanostructure electrodes such as core shell structures of platinum on nickel that are optimized for maximum three-phase interface area.

Nanotechnology plays a crucial role in the development of advanced thermoelectric devices to use in such areas as thermal management and waste heat recovery. Superlattice structures made of nanoscale multilayers of selected materials have raised the performance of thermoelectric devices to unprecedented levels.

Ultracapacitors with high-surface-area activated CNT and porous silicon-based electrodes can achieve high energy densities. These devices will complement high-performance batteries for use in hybrid transportation vehicles and large-scale electric grid applications.

Nanotechnology is also being used in the development of the next generation of high-temperature superconducting wire to increase its ability to carry electrical current. This work includes the growth of biaxially aligned thin-film yttrium-barium-copper-oxide (YBCO) structures, as well as the inclusion of engineered impurities as pinning centers on the nanoscale. The goal is to use this wire for applications in energy transmission, as well as in high-performance motors and generators.

E2TAC has been actively engaged in various R&D programs involving these clean energy technologies, leveraging the state-of-the-art infrastructure and intellectual expertise. E2TAC also works with several clean energy technology industrial and government partners to accelerate innovation through initiatives such as New Energy New York, the New York Fuel Cell Network, the Solar Initiative of New York, Tech Valley Energy Forums, New Energy Symposia, business incubation, and technology transfer.