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A Frontier for Engineering PUBLIC ACCESS

The Aim of Nanotechnology is to Build the Future, Molecule by Molecule.

Mechanical Engineering 123(01), 52-55 (Jan 01, 2001) (4 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2001-JAN-3

This article kicks off an initiative by mechanical engineering magazine to delve into the topic of nanotechnology. Because of the high-risk/high return and interdisciplinary nature of the research and development, and the potential social implications, the National Nanotechnology Initiative has received the government’s support. The essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular levels, in a scale of about 1 to 100 nanometers, to create, manipulate, and use materials, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions because of the small scale of their structures. There has been an explosion of discoveries in the last few years, and development is expected to accelerate in the next decade. Many scientific advancements exceed the projections made just one year ago, in areas such as molecular electronics, guided self-assembly, medicine, and DNA processing. Nanoscale science and engineering promise to restructure almost all industries toward the next industrial revolution, and to assure the quality of life in an increasingly crowded planet with shrinking energy and materials resources and less environmental endurance.

Mechanical devices allowed us to reach beyond our physical strength and advanced into technical civilization. Nanoscience and nanoscale manufacturing will allow us to reach beyond our natural size limitation, and work directly at the building blocks of matter where properties are defined and can be changed.

This technology will spawn a new kind of industrial revolution in the coming decades. Nanotechnology holds the promise of scientific breakthroughs in a wide range of fields, has an inm1ense potential for industry and the overall economy, for better health care, and for a sustainable environment.

Because of the high risk/ high return and interdisciplinary nature of the research and development, and the potential social implications, the National Nanotechnology Initiative has received the government's support. President Clinton presented the idea in a speech at the California Institute of Technology in January a year ago. Congress enacted a fiscal year 2001 nanotechnology budget of $422 million last November. The annual letter sent by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget to all agencies has put nanotechnology at the top of R&D priorities for fiscal year 2001.

The essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular levels, in a scale of about 1 to 100 nanometers, in order to create, manipulate, and use materials, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions because of the small scale of their structures. All materials and systems establish their foundation at nanoscale. A water molecule is about 1 nm in diameter; a single-wall nanotube is 1.2 nm in diameter; a molecular device may be in the range of few nanometers; a quantum dot of germanium on a silicon substrate is about 10 nm wide, and the smallest transistors measure about 20 nm. DNA molecules are about 2.5 nm wide, a typical protein between 1 and 20 111n, and an A TP biochemical motor about 10 nm in diameter.

Size confinement effects, quantum phenomena, and coulomb blockage are relevant under the 30-nm feature size. Large surface area and high reactivity are dominant in the same region. These are only a few examples from a wide variety of structures and properties.

Control of matter at the nanoscale means tailoring the fundamental structures exactly at the scale where their basic properties are defined. This is the ultimate manufacturing scale, as we know nature now. Nanotechnology includes integration of nanoscale structures into larger architectures that could be used in industry, medicine, and environmental protection.

Since all objects establish their foundation at the nanoscale, and their properties could be tailored at that scale for given purposes, nanotechnology may revolutionize production of almost all manmade objects.

The broader perspective of the qualitative changes nanotechnology will bring to society cannot be underestimated; some changes are unpredictable. There has been an explosion of discoveries in the last few years, and development is expected to accelerate in the next decade. Many scientific advancements exceed the projections made just one year ago, in areas such as molecular electronics, guided self-assembly, medicine, and DNA processing.

All disciplines and areas converge at the nanoscale to the same basic principles and same basic tools.

Nanoscale science and engineering promise to restructure almost all industries toward the next industrial revolution, and to assure the quality of life in an increasingly crowded planet with shrinking energy and materials resources and less environmental endurance. The blossom of two flag technologies, information and bio, would be severely hampered without the concepts, tools, materials, systems, and synergism provided by future nanotechnology growth.

Educational programs will be refocused from microanalysis to nanoscale understanding and creative manipulation of matter. Biomedical sensors and nanodevices may enhance the performance of the human body and prolong its life. Innovation in nanoengineering new products in an interconnected world could become the key factor in the progress of humanity.

In the last several years, multibillion - dollar markets based on nanotechnology have been developed.

For example, in the United States, IBM has developed magnetic sensors for hard disk heads; Eastman Kodak and 3M have produced nanostructured thin-film technologies; Mobil has synthesized nanostructured catalysts for chemical plants, and Merck has produced nanoparticle medicines. Toyota has fabricated nanoparticle reinforced polymeric materials for cars in Japan, and Samsung Electronics is working on a flat-panel display with carbon nanotubes in Korea.

We are just at the beginning of the road, and a few commercial products are using one-dimensional nanostructures (nanoparticles, nanotubes, nanolayers, and superlattices). New concepts and economical manufacturing of two- and three-dimensional nanostructures are challenging issues for the future.

This article, by Dr. Mihail Roco, (an ASME Fellow and senior advisor for nanotecnology at the National science foundation's Directorate for Engineering, magazine to delve into the topic of nanotecnology.

This is technology that promises to change the way we live, the way we combat diseases, the way we manufacture products, and even the way we explore the universe. Simply put, nanoscale manufacturing allows us to work with the building blocks of matter, at the automatic and molecular levels. This enables the creation of systems that are so small that we could only dream about their application years ago.

Throughout the course of the next 12 months, machanical engineering magazine will invite leaders in the field of nanotechnology to explore scientific and engineering issues influencing research, testing, development, manufacturing, and commercialization.

nanotechnology is the area where the lines truly blur between what our imagination proposes and reality imposes. Learn with us, as the world's foremost scientists and engineers use our magazine as their forum to tell us what to expect.

Certainly, it will be quite the unexpected.

John G. Falcioni, Editor-in-Chief

Eye On The Future: Nanotechnology

The new technology has the potential to significantly change a large cross-section of the economy in the coming decades in industrialized countries. Here are several examples of the promise of nanotechnology based on research in progress or envisioned by the private sector:

  • The nanometer scale is expected to become a highly efficient scale for manufacturing. Materials with high performance, and unique properties and functions will be produced that traditional chemistry could not create.

  • Nanotechnology is projected to yield annual production of about $300 billion for the semiconductor industry and $900 million for global integrated circuits sales within 10 to 15 years.

  • Nanotechnology will improve health care, help extend the life span, improve its quality, and extend human physical capabilities.

  • Approximately half of all the production of pharmaceuticals in 10 to 15 years could be dependent on nanotechnology-affecting over $180 billion per year.

  • Nanostructured catalysts have applications in the petroleum and chemical processing industries, with an estimated annual impact of$100 billion in 10 to 15 years.

  • Nanotechnology will improve agricultural yields for an increased population, provide more economical water filtration and desalination, and improve renewable energy sources, such as solar energy conversion. A recently tested flow-through capacitator with aligned carbon nanotube electrodes can desalt sea water with 10 times less energy than state-of-the-art reverse osmosis.

Nanotechnology is expected to reduce the need for scarce material resources and diminish pollution for a cleaner environment. For example, in 10 to 15 years, projections indicate that nanotechnology-based lighting advances have the potential to reduce worldwide consumption of energy by more than 10 percent, reflecting a savings of $100 billion per year and a corresponding reduction of 200 million tons of carbon emissions.

Research and development for nanotechnology are at the confluence of many disciplines and areas of relevance, including mechanical engineering. Engineering plays an important role because when we refer to nanotechnology, we speak about systems at the nanoscale, where the treatment of simultaneous phenomena in multibody assemblies would require integration of disciplinary methods of investigation and an engineering systems approach. Manipulation of a large system of molecules is as challenging to a thermodynamics engineer researcher as it is to a single-electron physics researcher. They have to work together.

Nanotechnology requires the integration of investigation methods from various disciplines, in order to understand macroscopic phenomena, define transport coefficients, optimize processes, and design products. Various methods must be considered at different scales. For instance, multi scale modeling of dynamic fracture would require finite element simulation of continuum elasticity, then atomistic simulation of Newton's equation, and thereafter electronic simulation of Schrodinger's equation.

Nanotechnology implies the ability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale and integrate scales to manufacture structures and systems. Major challenges include the creation of tailored structures in the submicron range, the combination of the bottom-up and top-down approaches to generate nanostructured devices and systems, the interaction of living and nonliving structures, the replication and eventually self-replication methods at nanoscale, and the development of new concepts that would allow for large-scale production and economic scale-up.

The mechanical engineering community may consider several lines of action. For instance, education and training might aim to give engineers a better understanding of phenomena and processes from the atomic, molecular, and macromolecular levels. Nanotechnology could be the subject of new sections in established mechanical engineering courses, of overview courses at all levels, and of continuing education and retraining programs.

Research institutions could address problem-driven, interdisciplinary R&D through interdepartmental collaboration. Not only does this suggest close collaboration of mechanical engineers with chemical, electrical, and biological counterparts, but also with physicists, chemists, and biologists.

Biology, electronics, and other areas have already moved their research and education areas of focus to the nanoscale. Mechanical engineering needs to do the same thing. One can foresee significant rewards and challenges. Mechanical engineering has a wide net, from molecular thermodynamics, nanoparticles, nanostructured materials, and nano electromechanical systems to nanoscale interpretation of transport phenomena and solid Mechanics.

Research and education grant challenges in nanotechnology could give engineering, particularly mechanical engineering, an important role.

Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley addressed the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space on May 12,1999. In his concluding remarks, he said: "We are about to be able to build things that work on the smallest possible length scales. It is in our nation's best interest to move boldly into this new field."

On June 22,1999, the House Subcommittee on Basic Research of the Committee on Science organized the hearing titled "Nanotechnology: The State of NanoScience and Its Prospects for the Next Decade." The subcommittee's chairman, Nick Smith, a Michigan Republican, concluded the hearings by stating: "Nanotechnology holds promise for breakthroughs in health, manufacturing, agriculture, energy use, and national security. There is sufficient information to aggressively address funding of this field."

On Nov. 18, 1999, the Presidential Council of Advisers in Science and Technology's Nanotechnology Panel met and prepared a recommendation to the administration. The White House submitted the National Nanotechnology Initiative plan to Congress in February 2000.

The National Science and Technology Council established the Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology, or NSET, as part of the Committee on Technology in August 2000. Its goal is to work toward implementation of the nanotechnology initiative, facilitate interagency collaboration for nanoscale R&D,

continue to define the vision for nanotechnology, and provide a framework for establishing federal R&D priorities and budget. Twelve departments and independent agencies currently participate.

Self-assembly of short strands of synthetic DNA, shown on facing page, may someday yield a nanoscale electronic circuit, like this one.

Grahic Jump LocationSelf-assembly of short strands of synthetic DNA, shown on facing page, may someday yield a nanoscale electronic circuit, like this one.

The National Science Foundation will make the largest investment of $150 million in fiscal year 2001. NSF programs embrace topics from chemistry, materials, molecular biology, and engineering to revolutionary computing, mathematics, geosciences, and social sciences. The first nano program, on nanoparticle synthesis and processing, was initiated in 1991, and the National Nanofabrication User Network was established in 1994. About 650 projects representing more than 2,700 faculty and students, and more than 10 centers, were supported in fiscal year 2000.

Preparing for the challenges of the national initiative requires strategic investments.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative enacted by Congress in November 2000 will expand the federal nanotechnology investment portfolio to $422 million in fiscal 2001, a 56 percent increase over the previous year. The research and development priorities have been developed in consultation with experts from academic, industrial, and government laboratories, as well as through the coordination of the funding agencies.

Nanoscale science, engineering, and technology are seen as emerging, strategic areas for the next decades that will be at the backbone of the next industrial revolution. Researchers foresee a strong synergism among nanoscale science and engineering, digital technology, and modern biology.

We are just at the beginning of the development curve. The current nanotechnology applications are based on simple dispersion or layered nanostructures. New architectures, devices by design, and economical replication methods at nanoscale are challenges for the future. Imagination and creativity are needed.

By redefining the role of engineering toward analysis, design, and control in manufacturing at the nanoscale, one may expect broad implications. They include enhanced productivity, new products beyond the existing technology, and increased synergism with other emerging technologies. Science, technology, and economic factors are expected to bring nanotechnology to a central role in our lives in just a decade or two.

Copyright © 2001 by ASME
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