Web Date: March 27, 2009
United By Problems At The Nanoscale
A March 24 symposium on the scientific and technical challenges facing nanotechnology was one of the best attended events at this week's ACS national meeting in Salt Lake City. The plenary session, sponsored by the Kavli Foundation, in Oxnard, Calif., brought together four speakers whose work is unified by the common need to understand and control phenomena on the nanometer scale.
Harvard University chemistry professor George M. Whitesides gave an overview of the wide variety of approaches scientists have developed for manipulating and patterning materials at the nanoscale. He stressed that further advances in making low-cost functional materials could have a profound impact on energy, climate change, information technology, and other large-scale problems of societal importance.
James E. Hutchinson of the University of Oregon, Eugene, and Rice University's Vicki Colvin addressed environmental aspects of nanoscale science. For example, Colvin described experimental challenges in probing complex interfaces between nanoscale particles and aqueous systems. Citing examples of commercial products that were modified to mitigate the unanticipated environmental harm they caused, Colvin remarked, "If we understand the environmental issues, then as chemists, we can generally preserve performance without causing unwanted environmental consequences."
Shifting gears from the environment to high-tech manufacturing—but staying within the topic of nanometer-scale processes—C. Grant Willson of the University of Texas, Austin, focused on high-resolution patterning central to the semiconductor industry. Today's electronics include multiple components with nanometer-scale dimensions, Willson explained. Yet to keep up with the demand for increased information-storage capacity and data-processing speed, even smaller components and finer scale fabrication processes are needed.
Currently, the semiconductor industry faces immense roadblocks to further miniaturizing circuitry because of the lack of suitable materials for high-resolution patterning, Willson said. He appealed to the symposium's attendees to help find a way around that obstacle by developing novel materials with properties that are amenable to fabricating the next generation of microelectronics. "It???s more than just an opportunity," Willson said. "The semiconductor industry truly needs you to come up with new materials."
As with other events falling under the nanoscience challenges theme of the ACS meeting, the goal of this plenary session was "to encourage, motivate, and inspire the chemistry community—especially students and postdocs—to take on the challenges facing nanotechnology today," said Pennsylvania State University's Paul S. Weiss, who organized the presidential symposium. Stressing the large number and variety of nanoscience challenges, Weiss added, "We hope to encourage scientists to think about how their work could make an impact on these important problems."
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