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Tunneling through the complexity barrier
Jeremy Faludi, 9 Jul 04

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The latest Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report has an article on how the costs of a technology can spiral up until they hit a magic breakthrough, and then come plummeting down. They predict that this will happen with nanotech.

Let's draw a historical analogy from biotechnology. In the 1970s before the advent of recombinant DNA, isolating a protein for use in a drug compound could only be performed by companies with enormous resources that could be invested in real estate, farms and massive populations of animals from which the proteins could be extracted, processed, solubilized, and turned into a drug. So what? Well, this meant that success in the endeavor was limited by size and scale of the company's operations. Small companies couldn't even thinking of competing. But with the advent of recombinant DNA, something nobody had forecasted, predicted or anticipated--a profound paradigm shift took place shifting the success function from "scale of operations" to the "creativity of the scientist". In other words, a PhD student could do the same or greater level of complexity production in a wet-chemistry lab that once only a company that had invested millions or billions in the previously mentioned fixed assets could do.

Now the same phenomenon is manifesting itself with nanotechnology, particularly in the area of semiconductor fabrication...where cheap fluidic self-assembly of semiconducting nanowires can yield patterns and performance that far exceed the capabilities of a $4 billion fabrication plant. And these new methods of assembling devices bottom-up, won't be relegated only to semiconductor manufacturing.

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Comments


Forbes/Wolf -- $195 per year.

Too much money for a student...


Posted by: J Law on 10 Jul 04

yah . . . anyone know of a (free) mirror?


Posted by: Ben on 10 Jul 04

Oh, yeah, don't bother. I was just forwarded the article myself, I don't subscribe either. But here's the section of the article that was sent to me:

FORBES/WOLFE Nanotech Weekly Insider: JULY.09.2004
by Josh Wolfe (email: nanotech@forbes.com)


Our July Forbes/Wolfe premium monthly issue is about to go to
print and should mail to subscribers next week. Click here if
you're not a subscriber yet:
http://forbes.z2c.net/rd4/ck/3072-13370-1839-191?m=1-0&e=230e130d733f


Now, perhaps by now you've read about GE's just announced
nanotech breakthrough. The buzz has been big. But a bit
overblown. They created a nano-diode (by linking two carbon
nanotubes together) using electric fields instead of doping.
OK. That's important because the diodes--which are the part of
transistors that control which way electric current can
flow--are more controllable than before. But, this isn't a
device. It's a sub-component. And there's a long way to go
before extrapolating that this one-off experiment correlates to
scalable production or assembly of devices. But it was something
else that popped me out of my chair when I read it. It was from
a widely-read and respected investment website that said the
following: "Investors should know that nanotechnology is not
likely to produce a revolutionary upstart that will leapfrog the
established electronic giants with advanced technology...With
fabrication plants costing $2 billion to $4 billion each, it
probably will be prohibitively expensive for smaller companies
to land the kind of financing it would take to unseat firms
with deeper coffers."


Ah, conventional wisdom. Nothing could be further from the
truth. Let's turn to my concept of "Simplexity". Whereby the
complexity and all the standard components of some device, is
simplified and embedded within the molecules themselves. This
is a philosophical sea-change that most, including the authors
of the previous quote above, haven't caught onto yet. Let's
draw a historical analogy from biotechnology. In the 1970s
before the advent of recombinant DNA, isolating a protein for
use in drug compound could only be performed by companies with
enormous resources that could be invested in real estate,
farms and massive populations of animals from which the
proteins could be extracted, processed, solubilized, and turned
into a drug. So what? Well, this meant that success in the
endeavor was limited by size and scale of the company's
operations. Small companies couldn't even thinking of competing.


But with the advent of recombinant DNA, something nobody had
forecasted, predicted or anticipated--a profound paradigm shift
took place shifting the success function from "scale of
operations" to the "creativity of the scientist". In other
words, a PhD student could do the same or greater level of
complexity production in a wet-chemistry lab that once only a
company that had invested millions or billions in the previously
mentioned fixed assets could do. Now the same phenomenon is
manifesting itself with nanotechnology particularly in the area
of semiconductor fabrication. Making computer chips thus far, as
the authors of the quote above accurately note, could only be
done in the most sophisticated and expensive fabrication
plants--which in turn, can be built and operated only by the
largest companies with deployable assets to invest in and
support them. Success has again been dependent on the size and
scale of operations. But scientists at some of the nation's
leading universities and startups have demonstrated the ability
to shift to yet another paradigm--where cheap fluidic
self-assembly of semiconducting nanowires can yield patterns and
performance that far exceed the capabilities of a $4 billion
fabrication plant. And these new methods of assembling devices
bottom-up, won't be relegated only to
semiconductor manufacturing.




Posted by: Jer on 10 Jul 04



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