However, the science is much more along the lines of paint, ink, and dyes. The 5th International Nanotech Symposium & Exhibition in Korea, or NANO Korea 2007, has done a lot to dispel the myths and expose the science.
First, let's talk about the statistics. The event was held at the KINTEX exhibition and convention center. Approximately 150 companies from 10 different countries occupied 250 booths which covered an area of 10,000 square meters. About 8,000 visitors were expected to attend from 10 different countries. The exhibition and conference was hosted by two well-known organizations in Korea, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Energy. There was also a symposium held which consisted of 7 topical sessions which covered nanoelectronics, nanomaterials, nanotools and manufacturing, nanoanalysis and computational modeling, nanobiotechnology, nanophysics and nanochemistry.
As is always the case in technology conventions throughout Korea, Samsung and LG both had large booths present. LG Chem and LG Electronics were both sharing a booth to go along with their name and presented information on a number of interesting topics. One particularly stood out; a laser interface for Nano-patterning. It is basically lithography on an extremely small scale. The technology is able to create repeating patterns on the scale of less than 100 nanometers. With this technology, one could put their names on everything they owned, for a few hundred thousand dollars.
Another showcased technology at the LG booth was Photochromic film, or smart window technology. Sunlight induced molecular changes within the film which darkened it, giving a variable shade based on the strength of the light shining through. The possible listed applications were glasses, ski goggles, automobile windows and house windows.
Yet another nanotechnology illustrated at the LG booth was what seemed to be a molecular scale model of a record player, the Nano-Data Storage System. A very small thermo-piezoelectric cantilever would be able to read or write tiny grooves on a microscopic bit of media, and in theory store information in the same way that vinyl records stored data for the past 50 years. Just in case you were wondering, thermopiezoelectric refers to a material that expands or contracts at the application of electricity and/or heat. And a cantilever is a rod or beam that is attached at only one end.
Photonic crystal LEDs were also illustrated at the LG booth. Photonic crystals, as explained Dr. Kim Sanghoon, Chief Research Engineer for LG Electronics Institute of Technology, can be made artificially from a lattice of high refractive index material embedded within a medium with a lower refractive index. Natural examples of such a material are opal and butterfly wings.
Recently a new method of increasing the light extraction efficiency from a surface emitting LED has been made possible by application of periodic patterning, or photonic crystal structure, of the diode surface. This new technology is expected to let as much as 30% more light through the LED in comparison to conventional LEDs. This is a significant breakthrough in LED usability because the technology is notoriously bad at allowing backlight through.
Current technologies only allow for 5% of the total light to pass through the LED. These photonic crystals allow 6.5%, leading to less power consumption and longer handset life. And we all know we need longer handset life.
In contrast Samsung's booth seemed to focus almost exclusively on their new 40nm 32Gb NAND Flash memory chip. As some may remember, it was the first commercialization of Charge Trap Flash technology, and has been the subject of 155 different patents by Samsung. Samsung also claimed the distinction of doubling flash memory density for the past 7 years and predicted a terabit size flash memory chip by 2010. However, this is the same flash memory chip that was announced September of last year, almost one year ago. One wonders if Samsung is losing the nanotechnology race.
Nanotech ink is not your ordinary ink. The amount of research and development that goes into most common inks today is quite amazing. For instance, InkTec, a company based in Korea, has developed a new TEC ink. TEC stands for Transparent Electronic Conductive. The most important aspect of this ink is that it is transparent in the liquid phase. Of course, it also conducts electricity, which means it is an excellent candidate for applications in RFID chips, smart labels, OLED, LCD, and PDP displays.
It may not be readily apparent, but this kind of conductive ink can be used to print out electronic circuits using something close to a standard office printer. This is a great boon for those who are interested in lowering the cost of RFID tags. Currently, the high cost of individual RFID tag hinders their ubiquity. But if the corner Kinko's in your local neighborhood was able to print out RFID tags at about the same cost that it prints name cards, the tags would gain much broader appeal.
Local nanotechnology centers
The Korea Advanced Nano Fab Center (KANC) was also holding down a booth at the exhibition. It is a government- supported institution to foster research and development, device fabrication, characterization and analysis of nanotechnology. There is a 3,500 square meter clean room and a 36,650 square meter office building located in Suwon, 30 kilometers south of Seoul.
The Center is supported by or involved with the Ministry of Science and Technology, Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Korea Electronics Technology Institute, Seoul National University, Hanyang University, Ajou University, Sungkyunkwan University, and Kyunghee University. The Center provides the facilities that fabless small and medium businesses need in order to advance nanotechnology in Korea. But they are not alone. The National Center for Nanomaterials Technology is also in the same business.
Most of the booths at the conference dealt with displaying theoretical data or off-site facilities. However, two companies stuck out in my mind with their interesting products in the booth. The first was Top Nanosys and their entirely novel and trend-worthy application of carbon nanotubes. They used them to create a computer speaker which looks like a single thin sheet of plastic. It is thinner than existing speakers at 40 to 100 micrometers, about 1% the weight of existing speakers, and is even transparent. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. I'm going to buy one.
The second interesting product at the exhibition was by hielscher Ultrasound Technology. They manufacture deceptively simple-looking devices for the creation of nano-size dispersions and emulsions.
Their devices look similar to a drill blender, but they are able to vibrate liquid materials in ultrasonic frequencies, which reduce the size of the particles in solution and create the basic building blocks of nanotechnology materials. In the scientific paper published by Thomas Hielscher in 2005, he states: "In general, ultrasonic cavitation in liquids may cause fast and complete degassing: initiate various chemical reactions by generating free chemical ions (radicals); accelerate chemical reactions by facilitating the mixing of reactants; enhance polymerization and depolymerization reactions by temporarily dispersing aggregates or by permanently breaking chemical bonds in polymeric chains; produce highly concentrated emulsions or uniform dispersions of micron-size or nano-size materials; assist the extraction of substrates such as enzymes from animal, plant, yeast, or bacterial cells; remove viruses from infected tissue; and finally, erode and break down susceptible particles, including micro-organisms." That is one useful drill.