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EYE ON THE FUTURE: NANOTECHNOLOGY
a bid to take the lead
Seeking to assure the prosperity of one of its key industries, Korea sees a future measured in nanometers.
By Y. Eugene Pak The Korean government is preparing to support a pillar of its economic strength, electronics. Analysts see demand increasing for ever-faster and smaller devices, which are already bordering the nanometer scale. As a result, Korea has put forth an ambitious plan that will prepare itself to achieve world-class competitiveness in nanotechnology within the next 10 years.
Many nanotechnology-related research projects are conducted by various groups in the government, university, and industrial laboratories covering nanomagnetic and ferroelectric thin-film processing, carbon nanotubes for molecular electronic devices, quantum dots, quantum computing, nanolithography, single-electron transistors, scanning probe microscope-based surface physics, and nano-electromechanical systems.
A national program named Tera-Level Nanodevices was established in July 2000. The primary objective of the program, known as TND, is to develop the seed technologies for producing terabyte-scale memory devices by overcoming the technological limits imposed upon developing semiconductor technologies.
In academia, for example, Seoul National University is conducting fundamental research to understand the behavior of atoms on metal surfaces. A basic understanding of the behavior of individual atoms on a surface can lead to building three-dimensional nanostructures and ultrahigh-density storage systems.
In a nanostructure, 0 or 1 information can be saved by intentionally aligning the magnetic dipole, the electric dipole, the geometrical configuration, the spin state, or the molecular energy state. The information can be read by a mechanically moving arm, an electrical wire, or quantum cellular automata.
The TND program is one of the government's key nano-technology programs born from Korea's 21st Century Frontier R&D Project and funded by the Korea Ministry of Science and Technology.
TND is a 10-year program consisting of three phases. The first phase will be oper-ated as a versatile basic cell
development for tera-level nanodevices. In the second phase, major efforts will be made for the development of the integration process of nanoscale devices. The third phase will consist of concentration in the development of tera-level integrated array of nanodevices.
In preparation for the next generation of semiconductor devices, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, the country's premier government research institute located in Seoul, is conducting research on semiconductor quantum structures and new functional quantum devices by using nanolithography and controlled self-assembly of quantum dots and selective growth of semiconductors. Nanolithography is included in several lithography techniques, such as electron beam lithography, atomic force microscopy lithography, and lithography using laser holography. A quantum dot is a kind of nanoscale 3-D structure in which quantum confinement effects can be expected. Quantum functional optoelectronic devices, such as laser diodes, photodetectors, and single electron transistors, can be fabricated using quantum dots.
In order to use the quantum dots for devices, the precise control of position is ex-tremely important.
In the industrial sector, the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, the corporate research and develop-ment center for the Samsung Group near Seoul, unveiled the world's first developed 9-inch color CNT-FED, or carbon nanotube field emission display, prototype in 1999.
FEDs require an array of sharp conducting tips to shoot electrons across a tiny gap onto a phosphorus screen. Carbon nanotubes are ideal in size and durability for
The developers believe it to be the first large-area carbon nanotube field emission display in the world. This prototype possesses many prominent characteristics, such as fast response rate, low power consumption, wide viewing angles, wide operating temperature range, and low operation electric field. This CNT-FED is very promising in size scalability, full-color applications, and low-cost fabrication, and is a demonstration of the commercialization potential of carbon nanotube technology.
Samsung's researchers are also exploring an ultrahigh information density storage system based on scanning probe microscopy, which may enable data densities well beyond the current storage density of magnetic recording. They are working with an atomic force microscope that can read and write information bits on ferroelectric thin films on the nanometer scale. One of the challenges of this technology is in miniaturizing the atomic force microscope to a nail-size terabit data storage system that will be an integral part of future information-intensive intelligent systems.
The LG Electronics Institute of Technology, a corporate research institute based in Seoul, is conducting research into a CNT-FET, or carbon nanotube field effect transistor, for terabit memory devices. LG researchers' key technology is the selective lateral growth of carbon nanotubes between catalysts patterned by photolithography. The nanotubes have semiconducting properties and can be used as channels of FET structure. Recently, researchers successfully made floated CNT bridges and demonstrated a FET that could be operated at room temperature.
LG is also conducting research in nano-photonics, particularly the photonic crystal applications for optical communications. The photonic crystals are artificial crystals that have two- and three-dimensional periodic structures with high refractive index contrast, for efficient filtering of different wavelengths of light.
In this century, the need for the integration of photonics devices is constantly increasing, as was the case for electronics integration in the past century. The photonic crystal can control light in a very tiny dimension, so it may have a great role in photonic circuits that integrate devices such as laser diodes, photo diodes, switches, attenuators, and filters for future optical communications.
In the area of nanoelec-tromechanical systems, research is riding on already well-established MEMS work that is being conducted by more than 500 researchers nationwide. A Korean project to boost microsystems technology is led by the Intelligent Microsystem Center, another part of the 21st Century Frontier R&D Project.
It aims to develop intelligent microsystems integrated by many technologies, such as electronics, mechanical engineering, materials, and optics. The intelligent microsystems are expected to spearhead high-value developments, such as microscale biomedical and information devices.
Thus, the center's mission is to help build up national infrastructure so Korea may join the ranks of the five leading countries in the world in the relevant micro and nanosystems technology by 2010. The two main areas of research in this project are a swallowable endoscopic microcapsule for examining digestive tracts and a wearable personal digital assistant for information technology applications.
THE GENOME CONNECTION
The completion of the Human Genome Project is currently opening a new era in the practice of medicine. Through DNA testing, early diagnosis of disease can be done for better prevention or early treatment. Although commercially available DNA chips can be used for the testing of genetic diseases, the current method still requires sample preparation on laboratory instruments that are bulky and expensive.
BioMEMS and nanobiotechnology will play a significant role in providing faster and more economical diagnostic services with labs-on-a-chip replacing the currently available massive diagnostic instruments.
MEMS, NEMS, and microfluidics are key technologies in making labs-on-a-chip. These portable diagnostic devices will communicate wirelessly with medical data banks, so that proper medical diagnosis can be made right in the doctor's office or at home.
The fusion of biotechnology with information technology is expected to have great social and economic impact. In pre-paration for this synergistic development between nano-technology and health care, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare has drafted a 10-year plan to carry out research in nanobiotechnology. The areas of research encompass nanoscale diagnostic devices, nanoscale treatment systems, and nanobiomimetics.
For diagnostics applications, nanofabricated devices will interact individually with a cell in extracting relevant proteins or nucleic acids. Nanoscale biosensors and manipulators will be able to detect single molecules and provide diagnostic information. Nanofabricated devices will synthesize and administer drugs specifically to the infected region of the body.
Nanoscale biomimetics will enable the fabrication of biocompatible materials for embedding devices in the body for health monitoring and treatment.
With an already strong semiconductor and electronics industry base, MEMS and nanotechnology will further fuel Korea's future economic growth. These technologies will also provide platforms for the biotechnology revolution that will soon follow the current information revolution.
Korea accounts for a significant share of the world market for memory chips, monitors, liquid crystal displays, and cellular phones, to name just a few products. Exports by the country's electronics industry totaled $67.4 billion in 2000, or more than 35 percent of Korea's total exports.
Continued advances in technology and production have enabled Korean electronics makers to turn out high-definition TVs, DVDs, digital VCRs, portable PCs, DVD-ROM drives, and digital satellite broadcasting systems. As for semiconductors and electronic components, 256M DRAM, 1G DRAM memory chips, and 23-inch thin-film transistor, liquid crystal displays were introduced to the market in the past year, and have been competing very well technologically with similar products from advanced countries, according to the Electronic Industries Association of Korea.
Since the Korean government's strategic economic growth plan started in 1969 to make electronics its major export, the country's electronics industry has grown to be ranked sixth in the world.
Nanotechnology is expected to bring revolutionary breakthroughs for semiconductor and display devices. It is also expected to create new business opportunities in electronics and biomedicine, while new nanoscale-engineered materials can leverage new industrial growth.
A panel of experts from government, industry, and academia has drafted a strategic plan for commercialization of nano-technologies. The strategy is a three-tier plan to establish needed infrastructure and human resources by 2005, to commercialize nanotechnology from 2005 onward, and finally to become one of the world's leaders by 2010.
Strategic areas will be in the biomedical and environmental technologies. Research into basic technologies such as nanomaterials will be conducted at government laboratories and universities. Catalytic venture capital funding will also be put in place to accelerate market funding and commercialization.
As part of the plan to establish infrastructure, a $100 million large-scale nanofabrication center will be established by the government with full professional staff, for design, fabrication, integration, and business development. The center will run education programs slated to include overseas collaborations.
The R&D funding will emphasize interdisciplinary research through mandatory collaboration among different disciplines from all sectors of the research community. In the commercialization of nanotechnology, a careful assessment of Korean industrial strength will be conducted by a panel of experts, and R&D investments will be made in the core, strategic, and base technologies. Major investments will be made in the areas of electronics and telecommunications, with large-scale projects each having budgets on the $100 million scale for commercialization in 10 years.
With its strong electronics industry base, Korea must plan ahead in order to stay competitive in the new century of information explosion. Along with the Internet and the wireless telecommunications infrastructure, the personalization and portability of computing will continue at an ever-increasing rate.
With wireless access to the Internet, the future will require fast computing power, massive storage, and portability. A new era of biotechnology is beginning to take shape with an outlook on potentially great commercial markets brought on by people wanting to live longer and healthier lives.
Due to the emergence of digital convergence, communications, computing, entertainment, and health care are crossing traditional service and business boundaries. Future hardware platforms will require the integration of multifunctional capabilities to meet or even to create new market demands. It is in this respect that nanotechnology will play a dominant role in miniaturizing and integrating mechanical, optical, fluidic, and biochemical functions that are required in future hardware platforms.
Y. Eugene Pak is technology leader in the MEMS laboratory at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology in Kiheung, Korea, near Seoul.