Wednesday, November 08, 2006

At a meeting yesterday, Chris Newfield suggested that the recent hybrid silicon laser developed by UCSB prof John Bowers was nanotechnology. Because I'm a cantankerous skeptic, I pooh-poohed this (a highly technical term oft used in the social sciences) as hardly being nano. I went back and re-read the press releases such as:
http://www.engineering.ucsb.edu/bowers/
to see if I was right. The process used, according to the press release, involves creating a nanoscale oxide layer.

This raises a good question - When do we call something nanotechnology or nanoscience? By a strict definition, it does or at least part of the manufacturing process does. But even the press release refers to its having been made using "standard silicon manufacturing processes." Nano or no nano?

4 comments:

  1. Are you suggesting that standard silicon processing isn't nano?

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  2. http://www.intel.com/technology/silicon/65nm_technology.htm

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  3. I'm not saying it isn't nano. I am trying to get folks to think beyond the nanobot and nanoparticle paradigm (which spans, IMHO, from fiction to quotidian). I think it is interesting that a good deal of the electronics industry - chips, drive heads, CD readers, etc - use phenomena or are made with technologies/techniques that don't often get seen as nano. Stealth nano? Or not simply seen as noteworthy by the media (who no doubt have computers with nanofeature chips, read heads that exploit GMR, CD drives with components made via MBE-style techniques, etc.)?

    Thanks for pushing me to clarify.

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  4. The nanotechnology of science fiction is little robots that can accomplish amazing and complex tasks. As far as I am concerned, nanotechnology is a meme that has evolved to mean something completely different from what science fiction authors have illustrated so vividly. The new meaning of nanotechnology is a discipline of science, not unlike chemistry or physics or biology, but one that encompasses everything that takes place at the molecular and slightly larger than molecular level. The synthesis of a new scientific field has happened many times throughout the years. The materials science department at my old university was created from the combined faculty of the metallurgy and ceramic engineering departments. Environmental science is sort of a combination of geology, geography, chemistry, sociology, marine biology, and ecology, but only the facets of those disciplines that apply to the health of our planet are included. Nanoscience is becoming the portion of materials science, chemistry, electrical engineering, physics, and biology that deals with exercising a tremendous degree of control over very small things. Thus, it is just a new discipline. Forget the robots. We will find another name for that.

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