NANO TECHNOLOGY



Nanotechnlogy


18 seems to be the magic number in today\'s manufacturing process. Intel and AMD both boast their upgraded production, and note that it will lead to ever increasing speeds and capabilities. Quietly, however, there is a growing consensus among the scientific community that silicon based-chips are on their way out. Tiny, molecular computers are becoming more and more feasible, and may do to silicon what transistors did to vacuum tubes.

Across the world, universities and government institutions are making advances in nano-technology that could shatter today\'s concept of electronics. As far as speed and memory are concerned, the results may be incomprehensible to consumers and businesses alike.

Consumers are routinely fooled by the false-security of a megahertz rating. Most buyers think an extra 50Mhz is appealing, despite a $75-$100 increase on the price tag. True, a 550 Pentium 3 has a 10% speed advantage over a 500 Pentium 3, but it realistically only performs a 5% increase in most applications. Consumers need to understand that speed and performance are mutually exclusive. An extra 100 bucks is hardly worth the 10-12-millisecond improvement when launching Microsoft Word. Still, an 800 Athlon this Quarter, a 900 next Quarter, seems to signal the dominance of silicon-based computers for some time. Most computer-chip manufacturers estimate that they will have plenty of business until 2014 when they expect to reach their theoretical limit in silicon-based computers: .10 microns. The translation meaning processors and other components would be built at 100-billionths of a meter, or 100 nanometers- 100 nanometers being the distance between each transistor.

Now, realize that with nanotechnology we could shrink components down to .001 microns- one nanometer. Chips would be exponentially faster, more efficient, and powerful than anything on the drawing board today. While some labs, like the ones at UCLA, IBM, and HP are well publicized, many are working under top-secret conditions and have supposedly made several prototypes of working nanotechnology. One such rumor is of a molecular device capable of functioning as RAM in a nano-computer.

The impact would be tremendous on the scientific and commercial communities. A near-term application in 2-5 years might be a DVD-like movie stored in a space half the size of today\'s semiconductor chips.

If nanotechnology were to exist today, it would make every CEO in the computer chip industry cringe at the costs they have endured to produce the latest and greatest chips. Current chips are made in multi-billion dollar fabrication plants (fabs) that use light waves to etch layers of circuitry onto a silicon wafer. It is an enormously expensive process, mostly because of the conditions in which the "clean rooms" must be maintained. Any dust or particles in the room would contaminate the chips produced. Nano-produced computer components would not require any such plant. While the current trend provides that with the advances in computer technology, the more \'finicky\' they are to produce. Molecular computers would have their components produced in vast numbers without such hindrances. One such idea involves massive "self-assembling" vats that produce the chips using chemical reactions at a fraction of current costs.

The idea behind nanotechnology is in reproducing what nature already does: produce things atom-by-atom, molecule-by-molecule. Not only would this allow humans to control properties like color, texture, and density, but also it might be possible to create things that repair themselves when damage occurs. Self-Assembly seems to be a key concept in the nanotechnology movement, which was revolutionized only ten or so years ago.
While the idea is not new, advanced microscopes and computer software have brought it from theories and crazy ideas to feasibility. For instance, in 1990 IBM brought nanotechnology to the headlines when it spelled IBM with 35 atoms of the element xenon.

Nanotechnology carries with it the idea of building anything imaginable, from a diamond coat to paint over your car (to prevent scratches), to diagnosing illnesses from one droplet of blood.

In 1998, the White House Science and Technology Council created the Interagency Working Group charged with developing ideas for future nanotechnology in 10-20 years from now. They have drawn up ideas about curing cancers and legions on the body with nanoparticles traveling through the body to fix it from the inside. Artificial limbs could be made up in batches and