Progress and Concerns

Additional information related to last month’s blog.  Single layer technology advances from the DoE’s Argonne National Laboratory have moved the Molecular Layer Etching to the atomic level. [Ref. 1] Argonne Labs have been employing Atomic Layer Etching (ALE).  Just as ALD can be employed to create single layers on a substrate, ALE can be employed to remove atomic layers.  Their work also established a relationship between the reaction temperature and the rate of material removal.  (There is a post by Karsten Arts of Eindhoven University of Technology [Ref. 2] that provides significant detail on plasma assisted ALD and thin film uniformity.)  The claim by researchers at Argonne is that this work may provide a means of creating and controlling nanomaterial geometries with the possibility of creating a means of extending Moore’s Law.  As has been stated in a number of blogs, the development of new tools or creating means to extend the usage of existing tools will provide the means of creating new materials that have properties unknown to us at this time. 

Moving to at different subject, the need for scientific integrity and reproducible results is critical for the advancement of science.  It is also true in other fields.  In a report from the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business [Ref.3], the topic of using standard algorithms to develop corporate business reports is compared to the traditional approach employed by businesses.  One key observation was that depending on the manner in which the company employed the data (or only a portion of the data), the results of the businesses could change.  Interestingly, the independent observer preferred the reports generated by the management over the algorithm approach.  The report states that the observers preferred the business developed report due to the “positive” spin on explaining the numbers. 

This brings us back to scientific research where the results are promising but there is insufficient information about the original hypothesis, or the experiment procedure developed to prove/disprove the hypothesis.  A few years ago, I covered the study that found of just over 100 published reports of scientific discovery, over 80% of the results were not able to be duplicated – even by the original researcher.  Granted, that many cases, the research area is so new, that expertise of independent researchers for the review may not fully comprehend what is being done without the ability to observe the experiment.  This becomes more of an issue as the nanoscale development moves to smaller and smaller dimensions.  The equipment is normally expensive and scarce.  Time to use the equipment is strictly allocated.  Consequently, the researcher must provide details of the testing and detailed results that are comprehensive.  Removing some results need to be explained whether due to instrumentation irregularities or equipment malfunction or bad sample preparation.  Without details the integrity of the results must be suspect.  A single instance is insufficient.  If one looks at the range of probabilities for an occurrence of a sample size of one, and there is an “n-1” in the denominator, the answer is meaningless.

As the development of materials starts to incorporate more and more single atomic layer materials, the critical nature of reproducible results is necessary.  Scientific integrity has to exist.



About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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