2-dimentional material and other nano properties

Material: Two-dimensional materials seem to have a staying power in various technical news magazines.  The US Department of Energy released a report on efforts involving the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory work on molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). [Ref. 1]  Granted that the quantity production of this or any other 2-D material is difficult.   Research is ongoing to determine the properties of the various 2-D materials with the knowledge that when some material exhibits characteristics that are very important for device development, someone will develop a means of producing the material in sufficient quantity.  The researchers measured the bandgap of the material and found it to be 30% higher than theoretically predicted.  The fact that they are able to develop a means of accurately measuring the bandgap holds promise for evaluating other materials.  The researchers also found a relation between electron density and the bandgap.  There findings indicate a possible application in sensors where optical or electrical effects can produce the complimentary effect.

There was a caution that the molybdenum disulfide is extremely sensitive to its local environment.  This is not different from the impact of exposure of graphene to the atmosphere.  Considering that 2-D materials are one atom think, it means that 100% of the atoms are on the surface and able to react with the environment.  Contamination by external factors ends up reducing the properties of the basic material.  This fact makes some of the planned applications challenging.

Nano-scale motion:  Researchers at CalTech have made measurements of spherical gold nanoparticles moving in in water using a technique called liquid-cell 4D electron microscopy. [Ref. 2]  A key element in observing the motion was the application of femtosecond laser pulses.  Their efforts were of a liquid, a few hundreds of nanometers thick, captured between parallel plates.  The particles appear to be driven by steam nanobubbles near the particles surface.  This provides the initial action and then the resultant motion is a random motion as particles bounce of other particles.  The hope is that the knowledge gained from this work will provide knowledge to develop both micro and nano actuated transport mechanisms.

Light induced crystal shape changes: Work by scientists at KAUST demonstrated photostriction in Perovskite crystals.  In particular the researchers focused on MAPbBr3.  When illuminated by light, the material’s photostriction changes the internal strain in the material.  Their technique which employs in-situ Raman spectroscopy with confocal microscopy was able to measure intrinsic photoinduced lattice deformation.  The researchers demonstrated that only a part of the change was due to the photovoltaic effect.  They theorize that the generation of positive and negative charges due to the light polarizes the material which creates a change in the material structure.  The researchers think that understanding the mechanisms behind the structural changes could provide a significant benefit in developing greater efficiency solar cells.  Other possible applications include optoelectronic devices.

Thoughts: The tools for working in the nano-realm are improving.  The discovery of different properties that could be applied to new devices are increasing.  The “nano” revolution has been around for a number of years.  There are application of nanomaterials being applied to commercial products for increased performance.  Medicine is using the nano-sized carriers to combat diseases.  But, are we missing something basic?  Are we really using the properties of the nano-scale?  More on this line of thinking later.


  1. http://www.newswise.com/doescience/?article_id=680155&returnurl=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubmV3c3dpc2UuY29tL2FydGljbGVzL2xpc3Q=
  2. http://nanotechweb.org/cws/article/tech/69765
  3. https://phys.org/news/2017-08-photosensitive-perovskites-exposed.html

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Nano-Safety Educational Efforts

There is a book being published in late 2017 by De Gruyter called “Nano-Safety, Wheat We Need to Know to Protect Workers” [Ref. 1].  (Full disclosure, I am one of the editors for the tome and co-author of two of the chapters.)   I am covering this topic because we, the editors, are at the completion of a process that has taken well over two years.  When you see a technical book, you may think “I could have done that.  It would be easy.”  So, I want to tell a story.  The concept for the book came after more than six years in trying to establish the importance on nanotechnology safety and the need for training people in the proper handling of nanomaterials.  This builds on my blog of December 13, 2014 that talks about the efforts to get contracts to develop the needed procedures.

The material in the book is partially based on the evaluation of various feedback received from both students and professional reviewers of the two courses that were created.  Once we had the feedback and the emphasis a that there was a need to develop a book that addresses nanotechnology safety (Nano-Safety), there was a need to find a publisher.  This was not an easy process.  One needs a technical publisher that is interested in the topic.  Everyone wants nanotechnology this or nanotechnology that, but nanotechnology safety?  That was another story.

Of course, the publisher needs to see the outline of the chapters and the potential authors of chapters.  The outline will go through  a number of revisions, partially because the publisher is looking for some specific ideas,  There is also a need to have the authors still be working in the specific topic identified.  This normally requires some modifications to content as authors change.

Once there is a contract in place, the real work starts.  Authors are informed to move forward and given a deadline of a year or so.  Not hearing anything from the authors greater 9 months or more is usually a sign of some issues developing.  Sometimes, a new author must be found.  People get sick or change jobs or something else.  So there is a need for the new author to meet a much tighter time schedule.  Once the draft chapters are in hand, each must be reviewed by three or more people competent in the field.  This is always a problem in emerging fields.

Having the reviews of the chapters in hand, each author must be contacted a provided the comments from the reviewers, who are anonymous.  Then the authors revise their manuscripts and submit them to the editors.  Depending on the severity of the comments, the documents may need to go through another review process.  If the comments are minor, the editors may check to ensure all the concerns were addressed properly.  Then the manuscripts are sent to the publisher, who also reviews them.  There may be interaction with editors on minor points.

Next, the galley proofs arrive and each author needs to address the minor issues that are identified.  Finally, the book is ready to move to the publisher’s printing schedule.  Considering everything that takes place, two years is not a long time.

Reference 1: Nano-Safety, Dominick Fazarro, Walt Trybula, Jitendra Tate, Craig Hanks,  De Gruyter Publisher 2017, ISBN 978-3-11-037375-2

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Two-dimensional materials and moving them into production

There has been more work reporter on 2-D materials, also called atomic level materials.  Typically, this term refers to a sheet of material that is only atom thick with the other two dimensions that extend as far as can be produced, which normally is not to great.  The first material that was referred to this way was graphene.  There are interesting properties. Graphene provides strength as well as electrical properties.  There have been claims that 2-D materials will lead to improved performance in solar cells, new electronics based on 2-D transistors, various filtering mechanisms, and even a novel type of semiconductor.

This development has been ongoing for over 10 years.  Like carbon nanotubes, the applications seem almost infinite, but the actual release of products based on the materials is very slowly moving forward.  You could ask why.  For the researcher, the development of novel ideas is what get papers published or patents issued.  Moving a product into production is a totally different story.  The concerns include customer acceptance, the ability to have a sufficient quantity of quality material required for the products, a distribution channel, and a guaranty of a quality product.

As the iPhone is approaching its 110 anniversary, it is hard to remember what it was like before the iPhone.  One of the more advanced phones was produced by Blackberry.  It had an actual keyboard, albeit small, that could be used for entering data.  The competition had the 12 keypad that required multiple taps to go from a number, to an underlying capital letter and finally to a small letter.  Since each key had at least three letters along with a number, it was a task.  The keyboards took approximately ½ of the phone face.

Apple took a huge bet to create a phone with a larger screen and incorporated the keyboard onto the screen through the touch display.  That with the addition of additional functions for the phone enabled the sales to skyrocket.  Other companies had to change their models to compete and stay viable.  Apple had gambled and it paid off.  What if it failed?  Apple would not be the household word it is today and it might not have survived.

Manufacturing of a product also has risks.  Someone comes along and has a process or material that will take 10% off the cost of the final product, yet companies are reluctant to try it.  Why?  A 10% or 15% cost reduction sounds like something that should be done immediately.  The issue is that no new material or new process is introduced and immediately starts providing dividends.  Typically, when a new process is introduced, there is a slow done in production due to working our process bugs or material issues.  Yields normally decline until the bugs are worked out.  All of this is lost sales/revenue.  If the modification can not be implemented to the level desired, there is more lost product with the corresponding losses.  Sometimes even a 50% improvement might not be sufficient to try introducing a novel change.

So how does this impact 2-D materials?  One of the greatest problems with 2-D materials is getting sufficient quantities of the quality product needed.  I know of a significant stride in measuring pressure that employed a 2-D material.  This effort crashed when there was an attempt to make more than a few laboratory samples.  The quality, quantity, and size required were not capable of being obtained.

2-D materials need to progress further in development so the quality of the materials can  be relied on.  After that is achieved, the size and volume of material needs to be developed.  All of this happens after the applications are first proven in the lab.  This takes time, although all would like it to happen faster.  It is coming but it is coming slowly.   Without any question, more effort is needed to address the manufacturing challenges.

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More Proof that the Nanoscale is Different

Results reported in the May 24, 2017 issue of Phys.org is titled: “Water is surprisingly ordered on the nanoscale.”  (Reference is at the end of the blog.) “Researchers from AMOLF and Swiss EPFL have shown that the surface of minuscule water drops surrounded by a hydrophobic substance such as oil is surprisingly ordered. At room temperature, the surface water molecules of these droplets have much stronger interactions than at a normal water surface.  This may shed new light on a variety of atmospheric, biological and even geological processes.

The article indicates that the researchers have developed an ultraviolet laser with overlapping, very short pulse duration, which enabled them to measure water droplets in the region of 25nm to 50nm.  The purpose of this work was to develop an understanding of the interaction these size droplets have in interacting with other particles.   Water droplets this size occur naturally in the atmosphere.  Specific investigations were looking at the reaction in a hydrophobic environment.

The resulting findings indicate that the surface of the water is more organized than expected.  There is a very hydrogen bond that appears in supercooled liquid at least 50 degrees higher than anticipated.  Researcher Sylvie Roke commented: “The chemical properties of these drops depend on how the water molecules are organized on the surface, so it’s really important to understand what’s going on there.”  Future work will target the water surface with different materials including salt.

For me the interesting part of the work is that it is examining liquid molecules and not solid material.  If one examines the work that has been done on material like iron or aluminum, there exists a more reactive material when the particle size get slightly smaller than 50nm.  Why?  The reason is that the number of atoms on the surface and able to react with external forces is a significant portion of the total atoms.  A very rough rule-of-thumb that I use is at 50nm about 3% of the atoms can be influenced by the surface interactions.  At 3nm, roughly 50% of the atoms can be influenced by surface interactions.  Somewhere between these two extremes, there is sufficient interaction to cause a change in atomic and molecular behavior.

The fact that the researchers can observe results on nano-sized  liquids is very promising.  Work has been ongoing on solids for years and we are still learning about how the surface interactions influence the reactions.  Being able to move into the liquid realm should provide for some interesting and unexpected results.

Remember that the material properties continue to change as the size gets smaller.  The pictures of different size gold particles in solution with each exhibiting different colors is just one example of changing properties.  Imagine what will be found if different sized molecules of the same molecules can be individually examined.  This work could be the first steps in an interesting and promising new field of research.

References: https://phys.org/news/2017-05-surprisingly-nanoscale.html

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A Key Nano Device Manufacturing Challenge

The use of “nano” has become commonplace.  Projections are made about creating individual items/molecules/devices at the nano-scale.  There are examples of nano clocks, vehicles, etc.  Given enough effort, funding, and time, it is possible to create a large variety of nano-things.  Making one is not the problem.  It is manufacturing them in volume quickly and efficiently.

Today’s semiconductors may contain over one billion transistors.  The devices are made on silicon wafers that can be as large as 450 mm (about 18”).  The devices themselves are millimeters in dimensions, which provides the ability to create thousands of devices on a single wafer.  The processing of the wafers is normally done in lots of multiple wafers to efficiently use the very expensive equipment required for making semiconductors.  As the dimensions of the transistors have been decreasing, the cost of the equipment to build a semiconductor manufacturing fabrication facility (also known as a Fab) is increasing and will be in the $10s of billions.  The changes in the size of features has been following a observed rule, called Moore’s Law, that projects a reduction in dimensions of 70% over a period of 18 to 24 months.  (70% in length and 70% in width yields a 50% reduction in area or a doubling in density.) The current and next generation of equipment to manufacture the smaller sizes are requiring equipment that is larger and larger.  The tools used for creating the images on the wafers are increasingly complex and becoming much larger.  In addition to the size shrinkage, more complex circuitry requires more supporting connections, which increases the number of levels each device has.  Additional levels require more equipment to be able to manufacture the devices.  It is to the point that the new equipment does not fit into many existing facilities.  Thus, new facilities need to be constructed.

What does that have to do with nano devices?   The nano devices need to be manufactured somehow. Currently available 3D printing technology has a limit of about 25 micrometers or about 0.001 inch, and it is not very fast.   If we consider the current state of semiconductor production, tolerances are a fraction of the desired feature.  If one is considering 14 nm features, the placement of related features needs to be a small fraction of that dimensions.  How is that achieved.  There are many ways, but consider two.  The creation of a fiducial mark on the silicon substrate can be employed for alignment, but the ability to register to the fiducial marks must be very accurate.  It is possible to also register from a carefully created edge on the material, which is easier to find than the fiducial mark.  This appears to be a couple of good means for establishing relative positioning.  There is one issue.  If the 14 nm features are considered, the tolerance is going to be less than 3 nm.  How does one create material with an edge or a fiducial mark that is accurate to 3 nm?  It is not easy.

In order to manufacture something in quantities, it is necessary to be able to measure the characteristics of the object to at least an order of magnitude smaller than the dimension being measured.  If the 3 nm dimension is considered, an order of magnitude smaller means measuring atoms.

So the Key Challenge is the development of tools that can quickly and accurately measure dimensions that are very small with nanometer and sub-nanometer precision.

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Science Fiction continues to become Science Fact

This blog is an update of a topic from my November 2014 blog.  In those comments, I mentioned the science fiction of the Star Trek programs that have evolved into the today’s (and tomorrow’s) commercial products.  The communicator can be seen as a direct influencer of today’s “smart” phones.  Since then, there have been some interesting developments related to phones.  But we are not near the potential of the communication devices (I am changing the description from phones).

There have been significant improvements in hearing aids.  These are developing features that are bringing additional capabilities to hearing (communication) assistance devices.  Currently some hearing aids have Bluetooth capabilities.  The coupling can be done directly to iPhones.  Android phones are capable of similar coupling with enabled hearing aids.  (I have been informed that the battery usage with Android devices is slighter greater, which should improve in the next generation of features.)  So it is possible, to have your phone go directly to a hearing assisted device (HAD).  There is no need for other devices to listen to your phone conversation.   The interesting point is that there is at least one type of hearing aid that is not coupled as a pair to Bluetooth.  What does that mean?  It is possible to have each ear primarily receiving signals from separate devices or the environment and a device.

Why should we care?  There is a new product that will be available later this year called “Travis” [Ref. 1].  “Travis” indicates that it will have the capability of translating 20 different spoken languages off-line and 80 with an on-line connection.  The program does not auto select, but requires input of the desired language.  [Disclaimer: This product is in early development as a crowd sourced effort, and is not available to the general public yet.  Consequently, the full performance and accuracy are unknown.]  Why mention this?  “Travis” will have Bluetooth capabilities.

This will be the first of many such devices that will be able to couple to HADs.  Given that capability and the ability to have the device in each ear coupled with different devices opens up some interesting possibilities.  For this to be effective, the performance needs to be very good.  One of the issues with conventional hearing aids is that they end up with less than ideal performance.  In the article discussing new approaches, there is mention that only 25% of people who need a hearing aid actually use one. [Ref. 2]  There is work being done on developing methods to sort different streams of input signals so that the person is able to sort out what s/he needs.  This need is explained by the term “cocktail party problem”, which explains that distinguishing separate voices from the background noise is done through the brain separating incoming signals into separate streams.  That capability is not incorporated into hearing assist devices – yet.

There are more issues before we can get to a device that is represented by the Star Trek communicator.  The directional microphone that is incorporated into the emblem worn in the program is not available, but could be.  With the ever increasing power of computers, many of the functions of translating and communicating will be available in packages much smaller than today’s phones. Power is another issue that is slowly being solved.  Some efforts are being made to use energy harvesting from a person’s normal daily activities.  The incorporation of nano-sized devices is being investigated for various applications, which would assist in prolonging battery life.

There are still many things that need to be developed.  Memory is a major problem.  The need to store not only words but nuances of other languages starts to rapidly increase the memory size, especially as different languages are added.  There have been some articles that indicate a vocabulary of 2,000 words provides the ability to “get by” in a language.  For business/technical conversations, that number increase by a least an order of magnitude.

Take the translator function one step farther.  There is a need to be separate Bluetooth connections to a phone for the HAD and for the microphone.  The latter is needed to translate the spoken phrase into the receiving language.  The other needed function is to be able to reproduce the speaker’s actual voice in that language, which will be coming in the future.

There have been more developments of the tri-corder.  This will be covered in a future blog.  Enjoy being part of the future as it develops.


  1. travistranslator.com
  2. http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/audiovideo/deep-learning-reinvents-the-hearing-aid?utm_source=Tech+Alert&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=TechAlert_03-02-17&bt_ee=iwcLpC+/eyxsWaLSQGFnO2NaksMjYJEI/KuJiv/R2opOzjAJb98d78xAvJ4tyZlL&bt_ts=1488467072351

Disclaimer: While mentioning “Travis the translator” in this blog, this is not an endorsement of the device being developed.  I have no financial interest in the company outside of having ordered a unit.

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Applications based on the properties of new materials

Composites: An interesting set of articles have appeared on composite metal foams.  Research conducted at North Carolina State University (NCSU) by Professor Afsaneh Rabiei [Ref. 1] has developed a material with sufficient properties to stop an armor piercing bullet.  The national Institute of Justice specification is that a bullet be stopped with an indentation of less than 44 mm at the back of the armor.  This particular CMF under an inch thick can stop the bullet with less than an 8 mm indentation at the back.

Metal foams are materials that can be produced by pumping gas through molten metal as it cools.   Cornell University has a different process that places foam into molten metal in a vacuum, where the foam fills the pores within the metal structure.  This material is composed of a soft alloy with a porous silicone foam.  The resultant material is lead free, which opens up many different applications.

The properties of the NCSU composite material is very light weight and appears to have the potential for being employed in nuclear waste storage, since it has some radiation absorbing properties.

Transistors: Applications of graphene transistors have been increasing.  A Japanese research team at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science designed a graphene field-effect transistor (GFET) consisting of titanium-gold electrons on a single layer graphene deposited in a silicon substrate.  [Ref. 2] The “GFETs can detect harmful genes through DNA hybridization, which occurs when a ‘probe DNA’ combines, of hybridizes, with its complementary ‘target DNA’   Electrical conduction changes in the transistor when hybridization occurs.”

The current procedure detects the DNA hybridization through a labeling of the target with a fluorescent dye, which will shine brightly when it combines with its probe.  This is a complicated and expensive procedure, which also requires expensive laser scanners to detect the fluorescence.  The researchers look to the development of biosensor applications that are focused on genetic disease detection.

Better Magnets through observing Graphene: A system of tri-layer graphene has been has been developed that allows observations of electronic interactions within the three layers of graphene. [Ref. 3] Their work sheds light on magnetism of electrons in three layers of graphene at -272 Celsius and occurs from coordinated weak interactions among many electrons.  Their explanation is that metals have a large density of electrons. Observing the wave nature of elections requires a metal wire of a few atoms wide.  The scattering of atoms occurs in 100nm or less.  Graphene, which has a smaller density of electrons can travel up to 10 microns before scattering.  Observing electrons in graphene between layers for boron nitride provides the ability to observe the electron interactions and the faint “whispers” (as the researchers call it) of electrons interacting with each other.  Understand the interactions will enable the construction of materials with greater interactions.  While they are not projecting future efforts, it is very possible that the understanding of the interaction could lead to the properties required for a material to be a room temperature super conductor.

The developments based on increased understanding of material properties at the nano level can lead to very promising developments in novel material properties.  Stay tuned for more developments in 2017.


  1. https://news.ncsu.edu/2016/04/metal-foam-tough-2016/
  2. https://phys.org/news/2017-02-dna-detecting-transistors.html
  3. http://www.graphene-info.com/tri-layer-graphene-supports-new-type-magnet

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The State of Nanotechnology

It is always interesting to look forward into the rest of the year.  Nanotechnology will continue to grow and have more applications.  While there is strong and continuing interest in graphene, the application in electronics will continue.  In the semiconductor world, the current focus in on 10 nm, 7 nm, and even 5 nm nodes.  These semiconductor circuits will be based on traditional enhancement of existing device structures and not the application of graphene and carbon nanotube transistors.

The technology advances to work in the “nano” realm have been significant.  The ability to see and measure features at these dimensions have taken science to new concepts.  The ability to see the atomic bonds holding atoms together was accomplished a few years ago.  There is now work being conducted that is able to determine the spin of electrons.  Just recently, Harvard scientists managed to create metallic hydrogen. [Ref. 1]  This was achieved at pressures approaching 500 GPa.  The current thoughts are that the metallic hydrogen will be meta-stable, which should remain when the pressure is removed.  This could open new areas of material science.

In a slightly different area, researchers in Japan are working on evaluating the properties of anti-matter.  The work is done with CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator and the resulting “material” is stored in magnetic bottles. [2]  There is work done by French researchers at CERN to measure properties of antimatter.  Where does this lead?  That will require the development of additional tools.

A term that has been around for a few years is “Atomically Precise Manufacturing”.  The Forbes article [3] provides some insight into advantages and opportunities of APM.  Zyvex Labs is the manager of the Texas based Atomically Precise Manufacturing Consortium. [4]  The long term focus is to work at the atomic scale.  Much of the work in nanotechnology materials development fits into this category.

There are interesting developments in the medical field as biology and nano-sized materials are developed to address various medical conditions.  Imaging of neurons and the interactions have been increasing.  It is quite possible that there will be some breakthroughs on the functioning of the brain that can be used to address “issues of old-age”.  These appear to be conditions where learning what the root causes of the deterioration may indicate means to suppress or even alleviate the effects.  This would provide a double benefit in providing a better quality of life and reducing the impact on medical costs.  This won’t happen quickly, but progress will be made.

Work in superconductors has been working toward a goal of room temperature superconducting material.  Since one of the largest “uses” of electricity is the resistance generated heat of transmission lines, a successful development of material would have the impact of increasing the power generation capacity by much more than 15%.

2017 should be an interesting year with new developments in materials and medicine.  We have many different applications currently in production, but do not have the “one” that everyone needs and can only be supplied by nanotechnology.


  1. http://www.rdmag.com/article/2017/01/first-discovery-atomic-metallic-hydrogen-claimed?et_cid=5803381&et_rid=658352741&type=cta&et_cid=5803381&et_rid=658352741&linkid=content
  2. http://semiengineering.com/manufacturing-bits-jan-24/
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/brucedorminey/2013/02/26/nanotechnologys-civilization-changing-revolutionary-next-phase/2/#6a8343d7b95a
  4. http://zyvex.com/

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2016 Year End Thoughts on Nanotechnology

Without any question, there is a significant amount of research ongoing.  I thought it would be a good time to look back at 2016 and identify progress and/or trends in nanomaterials

Graphene still garners a large amount of published news.  A number of companies are working on various processes to create increased volumes of graphene, others have processes to reduce defects.  Possible applications are being directed at improving batteries through using various layers of graphene.  The possibility exists of creating transistors and compete circuits involving graphene or similar two-dimensional materials.

Applications are still developing, but there is nothing that raises attention indicating there is a significant movement for rapid growth in applications.  Work at Rice is still ongoing to develop stronger concrete, while other efforts are continuing to create materials that heal themselves.  There is the example from a few years ago of the self-healing paint for automobile finishes.  Nothing compares to the initial flurry of activity when carbon nanotubes were incorporated in the bumper of Toyota trucks, or into sports equipment (baseball bats and tennis racquets) to increase strength while decreasing weight.

There have been efforts to develop regulations and governances on the use and applications of nanomaterials.  Europe has been very active in this arena.  While these efforts are moving forward, there have been some discoveries that indicate efforts to define potential problems by size may have some hidden surprises.  Concern over Silver nanoparticles have been highlighted by the toxicity impact on select organisms.  Work done at UCLA [Reference] has shown that the shape of the material can determine the effect.  In this work, plate-shaped nanomaterial appears to be more toxic than wire- or sphere-shaped materials.  [Please note, the word “may” in the work being quoted.]

The issue with a single research effort publication is that it may have experimental errors or other things happening that provide erroneous conclusions.  That is the purpose of the scientific method and the ability of other researchers to duplicate the experiments and arrives at similar results.  When working in new technical areas, they may not be a number of other people working or interested in the same exact area.  Consequently, it takes longer to validate the research.  This is not to indicate that any specific research results are correct or incorrect, only that findings need to be validated by other independent work.

A parting thought for this blog as we start the year 2017: Sometimes, this development process seems to appear to be a repeat of a cycle that civilization has already been through.  There has been a lot of technology/knowledge lost over the centuries.  Current technology is still not capable of creating concrete structures that as durable as the Roman Coliseum.  It is still standing after more than two thousand years.  Our current concrete can not accomplish that feat.  In fact, current technology employs reinforcing steel to strengthen the concrete.  Unfortunately, the concrete containing the metal bars permits moisture to work it way into the concrete.  The moisture then has the capability of oxidizing and eventually destroying the metal employed to strengthen the concrete.  How were the Romans able to develop and apply techniques we do not have today?  How did the artisans in the Middle Ages know how to incorporate certain size gold nanoparticles to create the red coloring in glass?  What else was known and lost through the centuries?




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“In-between” Manufacturing

The volume manufacturing of electronics has been around since the early 1900s.  The introduction of the printed wiring (or circuit) board has been the basis of most of the electronic/electrical products since before World War II.  The vacuum tubes permitted the development of circuitry that could add new functionality to the circuitry and enabled the development of radio, radar, and many other advances.  While television was demonstrated int eh 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it started to become commonplace.

Vacuum tubes had reliability problems with short lifetime and the constant need to replace them.  Banks and banks of vacuum tubes were requi8red for applications and the heat generated by the vacuum tubes and the constant maintenance demonstrated the need for a better solution.  Bell labs developed the transistor to replace the vacuum tubes and increase the reliability of the switching circuits for AT&T’s phone lines.

The development of mass production of the transistor enabled the creation of phone line connections that could automatically route calls to various destinations.  In the early 1960, Texas Instruments (TI) patented the integrated circuit, which enabled the development of more complex circuits with advance functionality.  The semiconductor industry is an outgrowth of these early pioneering efforts.

The semiconductors were applied to various designs for different capabilities.  There was still a need to connect the semiconductors with various functionalities.  This was done by using circuity boards and placing various semiconductor chips into the circuity in the board.

The semiconductor circuitry has grown more complex while the size of the transistor and related components in the semiconductor have decreased.  The doubling of density of components followed a 70% shrinkage in linear size every 18 to 24 months.  (70% width times 70% length yields a 49% area reductions or a doubling of density.)

The semiconductor components are still mounted into individual packages or multi-chip packages, which are them mounted on circuit boards.   The manufacture of  these semiconductor devices requires a package that can be handled by automated assembly equipment.  The limit of circuit board assembly equipment is based on the size of the smallest component that can be picked up and accurately placed.  Current automated electronic assembly equipment is limited to a component no smaller than 0.005 inch (127 µm) by 0.010 inch (254 µm).

Current small devices are in the millimeter range.  Devices smaller than this can be obtained if the volume is very high (in the many millions of devices).  There are examples of devices approaching the single digit millimeter and smaller sizes.  Semiconductors need very high volume to be cost effective for most applications.  The circuit board construction becomes problematic when the sizes shrink to the single digit millimeter and smaller range.  Consequently, it is possible to manufacture devices using circuit boards (or other type of substrates, like thick and thin file substrates).  Semiconductors can be produced effectively in the smaller sizes as long as the volume is large.

There is a gap, sub-millimeter devices, that does not have volume manufacturing capability available for producing quantities of devices that can have various different types of functionality that can be assembled as the mission need changes.  This “in-between” size of manufacturing has not been addressed to date.  There are devices being developed that will require this type of manufacturing capability.  However, the development of this “devices” requires more than a sophisticated assembly mechanism.

This topic will be continued in future blogs.  Stay “tuned”.

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