A Look at Technology in 2022 – Nanomaterials, MEMS/NEMS, Metamaterials

As 2022 begins, predicting (guessing) where technology will go is almost always wrong.  This is an opportunity to highlight some of the developments that that appear possible to occur.

Nanomaterials:

Nanomaterials have been around for more than a couple of decades.  The initial examples of nanomaterial applications were in commercial products that increased the strength of material while decreasing the weight.  Carbon Nano Tubes (CNTs) were incorporated in Toyota bumpers replacing steel with better performance and less weight.  Zyvex Technologies provided material that was employed to make lighter and stronger tennis rackets among other sports equipment. 

Now research is moving into the realm where there are surprising findings.  A Northwestern professor [Ref. 1] was working on superconducting materials.  The researcher found a material, which is 4 atoms thick, that permits examining in only two dimensions the motion of charged particles.  Existing research on materials can examine particle movement in three dimensions, but not in two.  Future work will be directed at examining possible materials for energy storage.

The ability to design new materials has been inhibited due to the inability of existing laboratory equipment to create conditions required for the formation of the new material.  As the techniques are developed and the equipment becomes available, there should be significant advances in discoveries of the capabilities of new materials.

MEMS/NEMS:

Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) are miniaturized systems that can preform at the micro scale the same way typical gears, sensors, transducers, analog clocks work.  The need to shrink the size of a product or function within a product.  Examples of MEMS in today’s world include the airbag deployment sensor in vehicles (accelerometers), devices that detect a person falling, orientation (portrait or landscape) of a smart phone, miniaturized sensors that can be swallowed, and many more.

The process for making the MEMS devices is in many ways similar to semiconductor processing.  The process deviates from the typical semiconductor process in that some of the portions of the device is actually etched away to create the sensitivity/function required by the end product. 

Nano Electro Mechanical Systems (NEMS) is not a term that might be familiar to the general public.  It is similar in function to MEMS but has different properties due to the interactions at the nano scale.  One example [Ref. 2] is from the University of Florida where they have demonstrated efficient mechanical signal amplification using nanoscale mechanical resonators.  They have created “drumheads of thickness from under 1nm to just under 8nm stretched over a 1.8micrometer void.  NEMS resonators will involves some portion of the device that is no more than a few nanometers thick.

Metamaterials:

A metamaterial is a material designed to exhibit specific properties that are not found in naturally occurring materials.   These materials can affect different kinds of waves, i.e., light, electromagnetic radiation, sound.  The key item is that the metamaterials are formulated in repetitive patterns, which patterns are smaller than the wavelength of the wave to be impacted.  Efforts on the index of refraction of lenses are working to create a negative index for specific wavelengths. Reference 3 is an overview of metamaterials at a very high level.  More detailed information is available through internet searches.  

Thoughts:

Research and the equipment needed to develop new materials and material structures are becoming available.  The access to new types of equipment will provide interesting developments at the very small scale of nano and sub-nano.

References:

  1. https://scitechdaily.com/unplanned-discovery-a-super-material-for-batteries-and-other-energy-conversion-devices/
  2. https://phys.org/news/2021-10-highest-amplification-tiny-nanoscale-devices.html
  3. https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=21097  

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.

Category(s): Misc Ramblings, Science

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