It is always a challenge to write an end-of-year blog. The question is what to focus on. Highlights of 2017? Or possible coming items in 2018? Or maybe some of both. There has been some expansion of graphene manufacturing capabilities and some consolidation of companies. The advances in graphene based electronics is moving slowly, but it is moving forward. There are a number of applications that are being developed in medicine. Probably the most interesting development in graphene is the possibility to create chemical and biological sensors based on graphene electronics. [Ref. 1]
The concept of Atomically Precise Manufacturing or APM has been around for some time. Each advance of manufacturing requires an ability to measure precisely something that is at least an order of magnitude that what we are attempting to measure. A measuring device that could only measure to 10 centimeters is useless for working to make something that needed the accuracy of 1 or 2 millimeters. There is also a need to improve the materials and the manufacturing process.
The following examples are from John Randall’s blog. [Reference 2] The Romans developed ball bearings that were employed in their advanced warship technology. The best material available for their manufacture incorporate wood. About 2000 years later, metallurgy has improved enough to provide better materials and the manufacturing precision to create metal spheres with tight enough tolerances to be used as ball bearings. Yes, lead spheres were used at an earlier date for weapons. The key to a loose tolerance sphere was to build a tower high enough that the droplets of lead would harden before hitting the surface below. Not exactly a precision manufacturing process.
A second example is the steam engine. The first example of it has been attributed to Heron of Alexandria in about 100 AD. It was almost 1,600 years later that English blacksmiths created tight enough tolerances to make steam engines that could actually be made in quantity and accomplish work. Human ingenuity is an important part of the creation of the ideas, but without tools to manufacture and verify the product, the ideas remains only an idea.
As we move into smaller and smaller dimensions, the limiting factor becomes the atom. We can see the interactions of atoms among groups of them. In research that is coming, researchers are able to observe how electrons can move among various atoms. This work is still in the early stage of development and also is of extremely short duration. Consequently, our equipment must not only measure very minute changes in atomic properties but also those observations must happen over an extremely short interval. I anticipate that there will be further development of novel measurement techniques in 2018. Until we can fully understand the interactions among the atoms that constitute a molecule of material, we can not harness the interactions to create superior material.
Here is wishing all a healthy and prosperous New Year. I am hopeful that we will see some interesting developments in the ability to observe the atomic scale of materials.