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Emerging Technology Report #35: December 18, 2002

NSF Tri-National Workshop on Micro and Nanosystems for Sensing Applications

- Summary -

Global Emerging Technology Institute

Each time one surveys the statistics for public funding for nanotechnology R&D in various countries and regions around the world, one will almost certainly find new funding figures showing a one or two-digit increase over the previous year. Nanotechnology looks so exciting and promising that the people involved in supporting and promoting this area feel compelled to be the "first mover" in the space. This mentality was similar to what was experienced during the internet bubble days and perhaps is a derivative of the overall lack of opportunities and a bleak economic outlook.

Despite some advocates' suggestions not to "over-invest" in nanotechnology, the excitement surrounding nanotech is not likely to cease in the near future. Nanotechnology may be in too early of a stage for people to begin thinking about competition, it may be more useful at this time to think of alternative approaches to contributing to the progress of nano science and engineering in a collaborative way because of the diversity of research topics in this field. The multi-disciplinary and emerging nature of nanotech will require a great deal of cooperation among institutes and corporations. This is one of the objectives of the Tri-National Workshop on the Advances in Micro and Nano Technologies for Sensing Applications, held recently in Melbourne, Australia, under the sponsorship of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Japanese National Institute of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). The workshop invited leading researchers in related areas from America, Australia, and Japan to discuss discoveries and innovations in micro and nano technologies for sensing. The 35 participants were specifically requested to focus on the subject through presentations and panel discussions in such a way that will lead to further findings, recommendations and focused research programs and linkages between research groups on an international level. Invited speakers included Dr. Venky Narayanamurti of Harvard University (quantum physics), Dr. Andrew Cleland of University of California Santa Barbara (nanomechanical systems), Dr. Morinobu Endo of Shinshu University (carbon nanotubes), Dr. Isao Shimoyama of the University of Tokyo (MEMS and NEMS), Dr. David Jamieson of University of Melbourne (quantum computing), and many others.

After the end of the technical sessions, lasting for one and a half days, the participants were divided into three groups to discuss new frontiers and future directions from a global perspective for integrated micro and nano systems for sensing and decontamination. Interestingly, there was a significant commonality among the panel findings and discussions. All the workshop participants stressed the importance of organizing multidisciplinary teams and the necessity of bringing together researchers from different disciplines physics, chemistry, biology, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, medicine, and so forth. As matter size of raw materials used becomes smaller, conventional manufacturing approaches will no longer be sufficient. It will become necessary to develop methods where these small building block s can self-assemble into functional elements and devices. Biologists and chemists will play a large role in this aspect of the development of nanotech, since these new devices will largely be organic.

Biologist and chemists will need to closely work with engineers in order to be successful in regard to the above. In order to develop a successful multidisciplinary team, people must be prepared to invest many hours working together in order to really understand what their counter-parts from different disciplines are talking about. They must, for example, be able to differentiate between the meanings of same or similar technical terms used which could have very different meanings depending on the areas of specialization. The workshop participants also agreed on the necessity of developing interfaces between the micro and nano worlds and between modeling and physical properties. In relation to this, new tools for measurement, testing, and characterization (metrology) must be developed. Developing metrology methodologies is a prime area of concern for funding agencies. Funding support for nanotechnology development comes from a number of key agencies. The U.S. NSF has supported the National Nanotechnology User Network (NNUN) since 1993. The NNUN allows researchers around the nation to use state-of-the-art nanotechnology facilities located at Cornell, Harvard, Penn State, Santa Barbara and Stanford universities. The NSF will initiate in 2003 a new 10-year program called the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) that will manage facilities at 10 sites with special attention to fabrication and characterization technologies. In regards to efforts to promote research collaboration on an international level, everyone agreed that focus workshops and short facility visits would be most useful and informative. Presently, there are a growing number of nanotechnology-related conferences held all over the world. Many participants felt that bigger, parallel-session conferences were not the best place to really learn something and make new acquaintances in order to exchange information and opinions. The funding agency officials present at the workshop reminded attendees that there were existing programs and international cooperative networks that could help organize theme-oriented workshops and visits possible.

Many participants expressed concern over the difficulty of validating peer reviews on the research accomplishments achieved by members of multidisciplinary teams from other disciplines. Peer scientists can evaluate the accomplishments of their peers in the same field but not of people from other disciplines based on their own expertise. No one in a multidisciplinary team will be able to effectively evaluate everything. As a result, naturally, the review panel will also need to be multidisciplinary, thus the inevitability of increasing the complexity of the review process. In relation to the above, one suggestion was made that a joint NSF/NIH (National Institute of Health) committee should be developed based on a memorandum of agreement signed off at the director level. The importance of human resource development and education was also emphasized. The creation and development of integrated science and engineering courses would be necessary at university and graduate school level, to be paired with complimentary measures for re-training experienced researchers in new areas. In summation, workshop participants were all convinced that there would be many opportunities for breakthroughs in nanotechnology at the intersection of various disciplines and in different domains (nano, micro, meso and macro worlds) and were very excited about overcoming the perceived challenges in order to realize the potential of micro and nano technologies that will greatly benefit society in general.

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