Discovering the Invisible Frontier: Nanovation New York
From sunscreens to cell phones and cars, nanotechnology and its innovative applications are having an increasingly significant impact on our daily lives.
Nano, a word meaning “dwarf” in Greek, is the prefix for a giant 21st century key technology. The broad scope of nanotechnology is both a unifying grace and a significant obstacle, as last week’s Nanovation event at the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) showed. Organized in collaboration with the Academic Exchange Office of the Ruhr Universities in New York (ConRuhr) and the Center for Nanointegration Duisburg-Essen (CeNIDE),the discussion drew a diverse crowd to listen to speakers Axel Lorke, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany; Cherie Kagan, Associate Professor in the Departments of Electrical and Systems Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania; Stefan Strauf, Assistant Professor of Physics and Engineering Physics at the Stevens Institute of Technology; and Vincent Caprio, Founder and Executive Director of the New York NanoBusiness Alliance; Dr. Oliver Schnakenberg, Deputy Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in New York, and GCRI-Director Dr. Joann Halpern gave welcoming remarks for the event, which was moderated by ConRuhr-Director and Director Emeritus, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology, Prof. Dr. Rolf Kinne.
With the worldwide market volume estimated at over one trillion euros, Germany, with nearly 2,000 players involved, is the European front runner in both nano research and commercialization. Setting the stage for the topic, Professor Lorke introduced the nanodimension (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter) and spoke about nanotechnology as a link between the macroscopic and the quantum worlds. He introduced two approaches to the nanoscale, the top-down and bottom-up methods, as well as the tools that make their applications possible. In the top-down approach, devices are designed smaller and smaller until they reach the nanodimension. In the bottom-up approach based on the self-organizational force of atoms or direct manipulation of molecules, nanostructures are created. In both instances, completely new physical properties of the components emerge that lead to innovative products.
According to Professor Kagan, who spoke about nanotech’s importance for future generations, “Going to the small nano scale is important because our energy problem is huge.” Her presentation showed how the problems of efficiency, cost, and long-term breakdown facing solar cells have begun and will continue to be solved at the nanoscale. Nano-level manipulations led to the creation of more durable, increasingly-energy-absorbing, and multi-colored solar cell materials. Professor Strauf focused on nano-electronic influences in daily life. The processor chips in all electronics involve nanotechnology in the form of transistors. These 22 nanometer structures are a central component to every computer process. Prof. Strauf noted that one gigahertz is equal to a nanosecond, making both the size and speed of electronics nanoscale. According to him, the future of electronics is in plasmodics, combining the nanospeed of photonics with the nanosize of electronics.
A highly-requested speaker on nanotechnology in the U.S., Vincent Caprio shared his insights on the business and politics of nanotech. As founder and Executive Director of the New York NanoBusiness Alliance, he observed that in the U.S., because ofthe field’s broad nature, there is no nanotech industry, but rather a science of nanotechnology community. Combined with a limited access to capital and a lack of understanding of how a product goes to market on the part of the scientist, the economic success of nanotechnology has been somewhat stunted. Its broad application simultaneously unites scientists in various fields and works against a single marketable product for investment, he said.
At the following NanoArt New York exhibition opening, speakers and participants agreed that nanotechnology is not only a powerful driver of innovation, but also a source of artistic inspiration.
The 60 nano images, taken directly from the labs of CeNIDE, the Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM), the Center for NanoScience (CeNS) Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, the University Alliance Metropolis Ruhr, the Leibniz Institute for Analytical Sciences (ISAS e.V.), and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, will remain on view until June 2011. For more information about CeNIDe, please visit www.cenide.de.
For more information about ConRuhr, please visit www.conruhr.org.