“Integration” was the theme of the 2014 Foresight Technical Conference, and the invited speakers covered a broad range of scopes. Within the human scope, topics included the integration of nanoscale technologies into social, political, and economic spheres. Within the technical scope, topics included the integration of atomic and molecular parts into nanoscale structures and devices, as well as into existing and projected commercial products. The following comments derive mainly from technical-scope topics.
There were a number of striking examples of integration on the technical level, including this year’s winner of the Feynman Prize for Experimental work, Alex Zettl of UC Berkeley. His functional radio system that exploits the oscillations of a single carbon nanotube may have applications in single atom detection as well. Advancing towards quantum computing and devices, Michelle Simmons of University of New South Wales described her fabrication process that uses a combination of atomic placement and tightly localized chemical transfers that position individual atoms in predictable locations leading to, for example, precise alignment of a single row of dopant atoms in a 3D silicon framework.
On the solution-phase front, strides in directed self-assembly and self-organizing processes that are leading to products with more structural and functional specificity and controllability were presented. These are cases where bulk-scale fabrication methods can produce atomically precise products, the advantages of which are well understood by this audience. An aspect that has perhaps been underappreciated thus far is the potential impact of nanoscale structural characteristics alone (including size, dimension, and other static, physical properties), which appear to have unique and directly exploitable value in both medical and technological applications, including structure-regulated drug delivery and filtration. In a remarkable medical example, recent work suggests that matching a native tissue’s stiffness can allow nanoscale structures to deliver unprecedented localized therapeutic effects.
Tapping into both human and technological scopes, a number of talks focused on new laboratory facilities designed to be shared across government, academic, and private enterprises specifically for research on the nanoscale. The goal: to remove an existing bottleneck to innovation posed by lack of access to highly specialized and expensive equipment, such electron microscopes, and/or the expertise to use them. In the true spirit of collaboration, some of the talks were presented by two co-speakers.
Looking toward the near future, metrology was emphasized as a key bottleneck to progress in nanoscale fabrication. Access to equipment is one aspect of the bottleneck that may be addressed by the emergence of shared-access facilities, but the technical bottleneck is a separate problem. A number of speakers discussed advanced etching techniques achieving features in the 6-15 nm size range and noted that technology to adequately image these products is falling behind. This problem was not unforeseen – a metrology shortfall was discussed in the 2006 Nanotechnology Roadmap, which accounted for a convergence of top-down and bottom-up fabrication processes. Adequate metrology will be critically needed for products in this size regime regardless of the particular fabrication process in play.
This brings to mind the familiar question: Who should be listening to calls for action and taking action? Staying within this year’s theme, Congressman Michael Honda, who gave opening remarks at the conference, spoke of the challenge of integrating scientific expertise into policy making. This challenge is not new and holds its complexity even as nanoscale R&D grows globally and strides towards APM accelerate.
In keeping with last year’s conference (focused on Atomic Precision), there was a sense of energy, momentum, and collegiality throughout the weekend that speakers and attendees alike noted as unique.
—Stephanie Corchnoy, PhD
Library of Foresight Institute Conferences on Nanotechnology, 1989–2014
Library of Foresight Vision Weekends and Senior Associates Gatherings, 1992–2008