Nanotech Forum


The Nanotechnology Forum was hosted by the Academy in January, 2006.  Chaired by James Ellenbogen (Senior Principal Scientist, Nanosystems Group, The MITRE Corporation), it rapidly became evident that the Forum would be recognized as one of the year’s premier scientific events.

Dr. Ellenbogen’s introductory remarks described MITRE’s contributions to the field. MITRE has been responsible for many influential innovations in nanotechnology, as represented by key inventions, papers, and patents. Dr. Ellenbogen defined nanotechnology as “interdisciplinary ‘engineering’ on the incomprehensibly small molecular scale”. It is interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and essential for the U.S. in terms of technological and economic well-being, health and medicine, and national defense. He discussed the foundations of nanotechnology, referring to nanoprobes and nanofabrication. He then talked about the major application domains including nanoelectronics, nanopower, bio-nanotechnology, and nanomaterials. Those introductory remarks directly addressed the talks given by the five speakers who followed.

Dr. Celia Merzbacher (Executive Director, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) emphasized the interdisciplinary facets of nanotechnology research and described the National Technology Initiative. Established in 2001, the Federal government has invested over four billion dollars in Nanotechnology R&D, with over 30 research centers and user facilities and over 80 university partners. About 20 Federal departments participate. The component areas of the program include Fundamental Nanoscale Phenomena and Processes; Nanomaterials, Nanoscale Devices and Systems; Instrumentation Research, Metrology, and Standards for Nanotechnology; Nanomanufacturing; Major Research Facilities and Instrumentation Acquisition; and Societal Dimensions (e.g., education and health).

The next four speakers illustrated cases in point of the interdisciplinary aspects of nanotechnology.

Dr. Esther Chang, (Professor of Oncology and Otolaryngology, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University Medical Center) described the application of nanotechnology to the treatment of cancer. Many issues need to be addressed before the promise of tumor-targeting diagnosis and therapy for cancer can be realized. Foremost among these is the efficient and selective delivery of diagnostic and/or therapeutic molecules to the site(s) in the body where the target tumor cells reside. Of particular relevance to cancer is the ability to target cells that have metastasized from the site of the primary tumor to distant sites in the body. The laboratory has developed a platform nanotechnology comprising a cationic liposomal nanocomplex bearing molecules that home to the surface of tumor cells. When systemically administered, this tumor targeting nanocomplex can efficiently and selectively deliver not only nucleic acid-based therapeutics, but also diagnostic contrast agents and small molecules to primary tumors and metastases in animal models of a variety of human cancers. The nanodelivery of imaging agents results in a significant improvement in the sensitivity and resolution in detecting metastatic lesions. Moreover, the various nucleic acid-based therapeutics have been shown to dramatically synergize with conventional radio- and chemotherapies. This approach is now entering clinical trials.

Dr. James G. Kushmerick (Research Scientist, Surface Sciences Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology), analyzed the role of molecular electronics in the context of Moore’s law and nanotechnology in general. Various molecular scale electrical devices are described and discussed beginning with how to measure molecular circuits and then proceeding to describe how to build them. The phenomenon of self-assembly is crucial to building molecular scale electronics and techniques for controlling self-assembly are described. Many of the diagnostic tools developed for measuring and observing atomic/molecular scale phenomena, such as scanning tunneling microscopes, have now become indispensable in the fabrication of such circuits. The basics of rectification on a nanoscale are first presented and then he proceeds on through molecular switching and its consequent application to memory units. A novel 64-bit unit is described which lays the groundwork for larger memory units in the future. The talk ends with a brief discussion of the implications for what lies beyond molecular scale electronics and discussion of some other potential applications, such as improved thin film FETs and flexible displays, new chem-bio sensors, and hybrid silicon molecule electronics.

Dr. Ellen Williams (Distinguished University Professor, Department of Physics, University of Maryland) began by identifying three issues that are unique to nanoscale phenomena in their importance to system dynamics – quantum confinement, surface-to-volume ratio, and fluctuations and entropy. It focuses on the latter two issues in more detail. At the nanometer scale, individual atomic scale structures rather than averages over distributions of structures will determine functional behavior of individual nanostructures and nanodevices. A model system of lead crystallites is utilized to illuminate these issues. Analytical, computational, and experimental investigations of the system are described which demonstrate the importance of fluctuations for ensembles of relatively small numbers of particles. These principles are then further illuminated in an analysis of fluctuations and electrical transport in nanoelectronics. Again, both analytical and experimental results are presented, concluding in a discussion of the implications for further development of nanoelectronics.

Patent Attorney Michael D. Specht (Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein, &Fox) presented Interdisciplinary Nanotechnology: The Next Wave. He made the point that nanotechnology commercialization is not something in the far future, but is, in fact, close at hand. After discussing various market measurements, he took a detailed look at commercialization from the point of view of a patent attorney. The phases of commercialization were identified as (1) Create (the discovery and invention phase, (2) Protect (patenting), (3) Commercialize (licensing, mergers and acquisitions, sales, and litigation). The presentation then covered the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology. There are 56 different patent classes, the most common being active solid state devices, electric lamp and discharge devices, chemistry of inorganic compounds, and semiconductor device manufacturing. Summing up the state of commercialization, it appears that extensive nanotech patenting will continue for several years. Weak patent positions will be strengthened (a requirement of both venture capitalists and large companies), and companies will continue to strengthen their commercial position through licensing. Finally, patent litigation will mark the start of serious commercialization.