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On the Nano Horizon: Emerging Technologies

Call-In Program
May 15, 2007
National Science Foundation
Arlington, Virginia

On May 15, three of the nation's leading experts on nanoscale science and engineering participated in a call-in program to highlight the latest nanotechnology developments. This is the transcript.

>> Michelle: Welcome, and thank you all for standing by. At this time, all parties will be in a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer portion of today's call. The call is being recorded. If anyone has an objection, you may disconnect your line at this time. I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Richard McCourt. Sir, you may begin.

>> McCourt: Thanks very much. Well, good afternoon, and welcome to the National Science Foundation's call-in program on nanotechnologies. My name's Rick McCourt, and I'm a biology program director here at National Science Foundation. I'll be introducing the guests and moderating the discussion so much as if we do that. And if you're new to the call-in session, here's what will happen today. I'll briefly introduce our three scientist guests, who will then describe their research in nanotech and discuss recent trends in the field. And this will be followed by a question-and-answer session for the next hour or so, during which time you, the reporters listening in, can query the scientists about their research, and we'll wrap up after an hour at 2:30. During the call-in, if you have any technical difficulties asking a question, you can e-mail Josh Chamot, who has contacted all of you about this call-in session. He's here in the room with us and logged on to his e-mail, so he can clear up the problem or just ask the question for you if you'd prefer to do that. And his e-mail is jchamot@nsf.gov. We have three scientists with us today. Two are here in the room at NSF with me here in Arlington, Virginia, and one is calling in remotely. First, our call-in scientist is Dr. Barbara Baird. She's the Horace White Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University. Are you there, Dr. Baird?

>> Dr. Baird: Yes, I am. Hello.

>> McCourt: Dr. Baird's research centers on her interest in the molecular structure and function of cell-membrane receptor proteins, and she works in nanotechnology to study that. Next in the room with me is Dr. Mike Roco, who's a senior advisor for nanotechnology at NSF. Mike, welcome.

>> Dr. Roco: Yes, I'm here. Thank you.

>> McCourt: And Mike was on the engineering faculty at the University of Kentucky, and also he played a major role in establishing the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Also here at NSF is Dr. Peidong Yang of the department of chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Yang, welcome.

>> Dr. Yang: Yes, I'm here. Thanks.

>> McCourt: Okay. Dr. Yang's research focuses on one-dimensional nanostructures and their various applications in electronics and other areas. And just yesterday evening, Dr. Yang was awarded the 2007 Alan T. Waterman Award, which is given by the National Science Foundation to researchers under 35 years of age for research in any field of science or engineering that's supported by NSF. So, this involves a medal, which is a very nice thing, and even perhaps nicer, a $500,000 grant to pursue this research for the next three years. So congratulations, Dr. Yang.

>> Dr. Yang: Thanks.

>> McCourt: Yeah. Okay, and I thought we would start off briefly. I'm not gonna say a whole lot more on my own unless we run out of questions from the reporters, but I thought we'd start with a brief discussion about nanotechnology and trends in the science and start off with Mike, if you'd like to comment.

>> Dr. Roco: Well, first of all, nanotechnology is the ability to work at the atomic and molecular level to create material devices and systems, fundamentally, new properties and functions, because of the small structure. We are merely a phase of development of this technology, even if NSF now is funding about 3,500 active awards. And in the U.S., there are products incorporating nanotechnology, nanocomponents of about $60 billion to $70 billion. We are able to do it with relatively simple nanostructures. For instance, we use nanolayers in transistors. We use nanoparticles for catalysts. And the future is much brighter, and we expect in three to five years to have nanosystems where we can incorporate a new concept and develop completely new applications. Several examples of this would be, for instance, building artificial organs or, for instance, would be self-assembling electronic nanostructures on surfaces or would be electronic paper or would be clothes that change the colors to the function your moods and many other things.

>> McCourt: Dr. Yang, maybe you could tell us a bit about your field of chemistry and what it is that nano is doing in that.

>> Dr. Yang: Yeah, in general, I agree. In terms of the current status of the nanoscience and nanotechnology, I would say in the past several decades, we have been spending a lot of time working on the individual building-block level. In conclusion, in this general field, we have have been working on many different sort of nanoscale building blocks, including nanocrystals, carbon nanotubes, C60s, and then more recently, semiconductor nanowires also becomes a hot topic, so in the past--I would say past two or three decades or so, scientists are developing these methods to make these building blocks and to develop the method to probe these nanostructures in terms of their structure, in terms of their unique chemical or physical properties. And now we're at a beginning state that's putting together these building blocks into functional devices, including for them for individual devices, as transistor sensors, solar cells, and I will say in the next few years, we will see more and more of these individual devices being plugged into a functional system. What I'm really talking about are these sort of making a system that supports multiple length scales, all the way from molecular level, which is the nanometer level all the way to microscopic level. So I would list one example here, which is actually ongoing research in one of the NSF centers at Berkeley. This center is called Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems. This is a center where we're trying to put them together, integrate mechanical systems that have individual nanoscale building blocks inside, which can sense chemicals at very high sensitivity. In the meantime, the system also has its own power, and it's also based on nanostructure of powered systems, and after we test something, this sort of integrated system can transmit signals towards a desired location. So this is something we're starting to look into. It's all the way, basically, back a couple decades ago from individual building blocks all the way now. We're really geared towards the really fully functional system now.

>> McCourt: Okay. Thanks. And, Dr. Baird, maybe you could make a comment or two about chemical biology and some of the things that nanotechnology is doing there.

>> Dr. Baird: Well, I guess I come to this with somewhat of a different perspective in this rapidly developing area of nanotechnology. Our interest and, I think, a general interest is trying to understand how biological systems work on a very detailed level, the molecular level. And so what nanotechnology is providing is the tools to investigate or to examine these systems in ways that were not before possible. And what the field of cell biology, biology, is providing are the tools that have come from nature and also as individual molecules that also as they operate collectively within rather complicated systems, such as a cell. So what is happening is nanofabricated surfaces, devices, materials of different source are enabling us to probe these systems. At the same time, the biological world is providing the clues for appropriate interfacing, such as is needed in new medical advances in tissue engineering, in drug delivery in tiny sorts of surgeries. It's the coming together of the biological world and the engineering world in the form of nanotechnology that's so exciting.

>> McCourt: Okay. And I'd like to ask each of you to describe a little bit of your research, and then we can open up to questions if people have them. But, Dr. Baird, do you want to start out, explain a little bit about what your research area is about?

>> Dr. Baird: Right, so, our research is focused on receptors and receptor-mediated signal transduction at the cellular level. It's basically how a cell will respond to its environment in order to live within the environment and to respond appropriately to signals that come in. And so the particular system that we happen to be working on is one involving the allergic-immune response and how a signal coming in the form of an allergen in this case interacts with cell-surface receptors and then how those receptors interact with the membrane in which they sit and with the internal parts of the cells, the molecules, the signaling machinery within the cell, to resolve a rather elaborate but highly tuned response. And so this area--and it's representative of a lot of work going on now in, I would say, cell biology and immunology--has been advanced considerably by various biological tools, and, in particular, genetic types of approaches. And we have engaged in those types of approaches as well, but what we have been able to do in the last few years is to get at some of the questions regarding regulation in time and space and particularly spatial regulation in the cells, and this is where we have used nanofabricated devices to probe the cells to get at not only how the cell is responding in terms of molecules but also how it's responding in terms of targeting to the areas where the signal is coming through. So this lends itself to understanding how all of these molecules that have been identified through rather more standard biochemical approaches to how they're working together within the very complicated system of the cell. So the types of nanotechnology approaches that we're using include fabricated surfaces, defining the environment that the cell sees, and then we can observe how the cell is responding to this spatially defined signal. We use ligands, or signals, chemical signals, that are defined on the nanoscales, such that they engage the receptors in certain well-defined ways, and we see how those signals are being interpreted by the cells, and we're also working with nanoparticles of different types, both as probes, but as internal sensors, and all of this is collaborative work with material scientists and engineers.

>> McCourt: Okay. So, when you say, "devices,” these are nanostructures that are used to interact directly with the cell--you can watch or trace somehow?

>> Dr. Baird: Yeah. So, I guess the best example of that is nanoparticles, and there's a tremendous amount of interest in nanoparticles, both as probes--that is, contrast agents, such as with fluorescence--as well as various types of sensors and delivery. So, when you have a bright fluorescent particle, you can tag it to an individual, say, receptor on the cell surface and follow it as it moves around on the surface as it may interact with other components and then as it may be taken up into various compartments in the cell and processed there. And depending on how the nanoparticle is formulated, it may be able to sense the environment, such as the pH of the environment or the calcium concentration of the environment, and in certain cases, and certainly a tremendous amount of interest in nanoparticles is the capacity to deliver, such as drugs or genes or other things.

>> McCourt: Mm-hmm. Okay. Dr. Yang, do you want to give us a brief rundown of what it is that you do?

>> Dr. Yang: We have a relatively young research group. It's about 8 years ago when I started at Berkeley. We decided to work on a new type of nanostructure, which now we call a semiconductor, nanowire. And as I mentioned previously, nanowires is kind of when another--one type of nanostructure barely, I want to say, in terms of dimension-wise, comparable to the nanoparticle we're talking about, called a nanotube--those are similar types of dimensionality. The semiconductor nanowire we're talking about is small as, like, spaghetti, but only in terms of the dimension-wise, I will say. Diameter-wise, it's much, much more skinny. But talking about it, I would say, more than 10,000 times thinner in terms of these structures compared to spaghetti. So, at the time, I would say the nanowires, because they are so new, they will have lots of fundamental questions here to address that we've been, in the past several years, trying to answer and address some of these basic questions, like how to make them. It's tempting, in the previous research of the nanoparticles coming out in the first thing--If you want to study a certain type of nanostructure, the first thing you need to worry about is how to make them. So we've developed some of these new chemical vapor deposition processes to make these semiconductor nanowires and spend lots of time, actually, studying how have their physical properties changed as a function of the size and function of the composition of these semiconductor nanowires. The good thing about one-dimensional nanostructures--is they--By now, actually, they can be designed and assembled in such a way that they can really sort of function as much better chemical biological sensors. We're also working towards making these nanowires into much better energy-conversion devices--for example, the solar cell--and also things like light-emitting diodes that's more related to the solid-state lighting with much better efficiency.

>> McCourt: Okay. Good. And now, Mike, did you want to add something about your interest?

>> Dr. Roco: Well, in the early '80s, when I was a professor, my focus was on nanolayers in modeling of interacting nanocomponents and, in fact, nanoparticle flow visualization systems. In '99, after I proposed the National Nanotechnology Initiative and it was accepted, I switched slightly my activity more toward emerging technologies, educational aspects and, I will call governance of nanotechnology. It's way different from a typical way governing from top down, more it's kind of developing, facilitating a self-governing ecosystem of different stakeholders. And at this moment, my main focus is on distant nanotechnology that I think the theories and concepts have to be still to be developed, and on governance, the risk-management as well as other types of dimension, that I think have to be very well considered, especially for the new generation of nanoproducts.

>> McCourt: Okay. Michelle? Are you--

>> Michelle: Yes, sir? If you would like to ask a question, please press "star 1” on your touch-tone phone. Once again, to ask a question, please press "star 1.”

>> McCourt: Okay, has anyone queued up to ask a question right now?

>> Michelle: We have no questions at this time, sir.

>> McCourt: Just to let them know that they're welcome to ask. But I'd like to ask Dr. Yang about his nanowire construction. How do you make these things? You mentioned vapor. Go ahead.

>> Dr. Yang: So, what's actually used is a traditional industry process called chemical vapor deposition, where you start it with a sort of molecular precursor. It decomposes on certain substrates. And in our seminconductor nanowire growth process, What's happening there is we use some sort of catalyst to promote one-dimensional-crystal growth, so it deposits these chemical precursors onto the substrate with certain catalysts on the surface, and that's usually where we're running these reactions at, let's say, 500 degrees or 600 degrees. Then at the end, it's--growth process is quite simple, actually. And so it takes a couple minutes, and you can get a whole wafer or a whole substrate covered with these one-dimensional semiconductor nanowires. Since the system we have been working on is these semiconductors, like nitride, gallium nitride, indium gallium nitride. We're also working on much more common semiconductors, like silicon and germanium.

>> McCourt: And these are studies that are composed of very small--Well, everything's very small today, I guess, we're talking about, various nanowires, which are--You refer to as one-dimensional. In geometry, I understand that, but in physics, or a physical structure, why do you call it one-dimensional?

>> Dr. Yang: The reason I think we're calling them as one-dimensional nanostructure--I think it's really coming from a more traditional definition of the nanostructure. When we're defining--When we're calling... quantum dots...with a nanocrystal, we'd call them as three-dimensional--A three-dimensional confined system, or sometimes I would call them a zero-dimensional nanostructure because they are all three dimensions are less sort of in the nanometer to scale. In one-D nanostructure, we are referring to a system that is two-dimensionally confined, while the third dimension is very, very long. So that's the sort of more common form, the traditional definition of the nanostructure. Of course, when we talk about another system such as nanolayers, we would call them as one-dimensional combined systems. That's a two-dimensional nanostructure system. It's kind of coming--really coming from the traditional definition of nanostructure based on how many dimensions are being confined within your system.

>> McCourt: Okay. And, Dr. Baird?

>> Dr. Baird: Yes.

>> McCourt: You mentioned using particles and things like that. Maybe you could explain that just a bit more to those of us who have not seen quantum dots on the outside of cells or something like that. What are you looking at in terms of using these--Well, maybe you don't use quantum dots, but in using the nanostructures that you do employ, how do they function in a system to give you answers to your research?

>> Dr. Baird: Well, I should again say that there's a lot of work and a lot of interest in developing nanoparticles for their multifunctionality, really, and quantum dots have gotten a tremendous amount of attention both in nonbiological and biological kinds of applications, and that's because they are so bright and can be tuned according to size--Some of the things that Peidong mentioned. But they do have their limitations in biological systems because they're made out of semiconductor materials, and their chemistry on the outside is limited. But there's been a lot of efforts, and without naming all the groups involved in this, I will say there has been success in modifying the outside to make it, number one, biologically compatible and, number two, make it functionalized so it can be targeted.

>> McCourt: When you say, "compatible,” you mean it doesn't kill the cell or...

>> Dr. Baird: Well, yes, I mean, this is one of the really big issues that, outside those working with them directly may not be aware, is that in general you have to be aware of the form that the particles take when they're in the system that you want them to be in, and in the biological environment with water and salts and so forth, and particularly with cells, they can be coated with proteins that just stick to stuff. They can be aggregate, because of that or because of other types of interactions. They can be taken up by the cells and kill the cells as a result of just dealing with these materials, and so they're--So what happens after the particles are taken out of the pristine environment in which they're made to the systems to which they're supposed to operate, a lot of scrutiny has to be given to that, and also, these have to be adapted for those purposes. So that's--But nonetheless, there is tremendous amount of interest in quantum dots in biological systems. It's just that these modifications have to be addressed very carefully. The other types of nanoparticles are very widespread. We are collaborating with a group at Cornell, the Wiesner Group, making silicon nanoparticles, and the methods that they have developed to incorporate using standard--Well, using silicon chemistry to incorporate an organic dye in the core and then cover it with a shell of silicon. Because the fluorescence is confined to the core, it is prevented from a rapid photobleach in which you often see with these dyes. And so you can get a very bright particle of similar size and similar brightness to quantum dots. And I say that because brightness is important, and these particles are maybe about 20, 30 nanometers in diameter. The quantum dots, of course, are much smaller. They're about 5 nanometers, but in order to get them into these environments, you typically have to put a polymer coat on them, which makes them larger as a result of that. And so with these silica particles, you have the brightness, and then they need to be associated with a protein of interest on the cell, and so in our case, we conjugated them to our receptors that we've studied, the I.D. receptor on the cell, and were able to demonstrate that they bind specifically, and this is another huge issue in using nanoparticles--targeted nanoparticles or presumably targeted nanoparticles--is often they stick, and so they stick to what you want them to. They stick to everything else as well, so they lose their value as a probe in that case. So it was with a lot of effort to get the surface chemistry right that we were able to demonstrate, using very rigorous tests, specific binding to these receptors. Now, another issue with nanoparticles is that that I mentioned before, but really manifested itself in these test systems, is their tendency to aggregate. So what may start out as a 10-nanometer particle in the salty environment such as a biological medium--They may aggregate, and then you no longer have what you think you have. And so--

>> McCourt: "Nano grapes" or something?

>> Dr. Baird: Yeah, something like that or worse, and they certainly confound what you're trying to do. And I'm just emphasizing these things because these are really central issues that have to be addressed in development of nanoparticles for all their promise, and their promise is tremendous, there are some very difficult technical issues that need to be--That need to be addressed. Also, when they aggregate, the cells will take them up just in the way they take up gunk in the environment, so they may not go to where you want them to go. Likely they won't.

>> McCourt: It sounds like an--It's an area that seems like things are moving very quickly and developing very fast.

>> Dr. Baird: Yes. And there are a number of groups, and again, a number of groups are involved in this and making just tremendous strides in addressing these technical issues.

>> McCourt: Mm-hmm. Mike Roco, maybe you could comment on sort of how you've seen things grow in terms of nanoparticles--Nanoresearch, rather.

>> Dr. Roco: Maybe to expand, to what Barbara mentioned before--in medical fields, most advances now are expected not only from the detection methods but from replacement of body parts, creating, for instance, artificial bones that have the same structure as the original bone or artificial organs in longer term, and treating illnesses, especially chronic illnesses, by changing the structure inside the cell in order to realize this. And, in fact, this is the new focus in our age to do this. I mean, this is, in fact, the future for it compared to detection that is now possible. Another issue that I'd like to mention--a main given--an idea about future methods is we're designing new molecules that self-assemble to a given structure. For instance, some group at Northwestern University has designed a molecule in such a way that self-assemble in a kind of string that can replace the nerve or can self-assemble in a three-dimensional scaffold for artificial tissue or can be used to heal wounds in a fraction of seconds instead to wait for minutes or hours. It means the development specific for nanotechnologies--It means the redesigning, reengineering the molecules in order to self-assemble for a micro- or macrostructure. And there are many such kinds of ideas. One main challenge, however, remains the measurements in three dimensions. We are very limited at this moment in our ability to control the system and to manufacture and the research is underway in this field.

>> McCourt: Mm-hmm. Okay. Thanks.

>> Dr. Baird: Can I--

>> Michelle: Excuse me. We do some questions from the phone lines. Would you like to take those at this time?

>> McCourt: Yeah. Barbara, if you had a brief comment, go ahead. Then we'll take that question as we can.

>> Dr. Baird: I wanted to refer back to a comment I made earlier in passing in integrating these new materials with exceptional properties into an organism, such as a human patient, taking advantage of the strengths and other properties of the materials, but the integration is a very important aspect of that, and what is being learned now is that the integration not only occurs at the tissue level but at the cellular level and even at the protein levels, how a foreign body is recognized as something friendly rather than something to be gotten rid of. And so I think this represents the interface between nanotechnology and cell biology. What is that very essential communication that's going on, and how do we intervene appropriately so that not only will the body not reject this material but embrace it as it would its own self?

>> McCourt: Thanks, Barbara. I think we are ready for a question now.

>> Michelle: Thank you very much. Our first question comes from Elizabeth Weise with USA TODAY. Your line is open.

>> Weise: Thanks so much for taking my call. The research that you're describing is fascinating. For my readers, the interest is perhaps a little more on the ground. I wonder if you all could describe if there are--Where things are happening currently in nanotech that might actually be impacting the lives of regular citizens or how quickly they might expect to see things. And I understand that we're talking long-term research, but I'm just wondering if there's a way to bring it to the reader that, yes, we might see this tomorrow or we saw it last week or maybe in five years.

>> Dr. Roco: Well, maybe I will try first to answer. At this moment, nanotechnology is used mainly as through components that improve existing processes and systems. But the implications are really major and are not in consumer products, as usually media covers in the nano plants or tennis rackets. Major implications are in catalysts--for instance, using oil industry, where already multibillion-dollar implications. In nanolayers in electronic industry, where also are multibillion-dollar applications in products at this moment. In different nanostructures, lasers, nanolayers for different functions, in different medical devices--for instance, for detection of illnesses or even cancer, and eventually now are different approaches on the way for fighting in the United States to treat cancer. The developments are fast, and already, even if nanotechnology is only in the initial phase of development, there are many, many applications that are not advertised even fully. Many times, companies are concerned that the novelty element of nano is not well received by the public. But I give an example. In cosmetics, for more than 10 years, we have nanoparticles in cream, and this is probably the most common ingredient in cosmetics at this moment. Or you have in painting or in nanolayers on cars to be more resistant to scratch. All expensive cars now are using this. Or you find in engines in cars are multiple nanomaterials in order to avoid expansion at high temperatures. That means, in short, nanotechnology already has entered many fields. Almost there's no major sector of the economy that has not been some influence. All major companies in--I will call in Dow--All 30 companies listed on Dow and also all Fortune 500 companies working in materials, electronics, chemicals now have research on nanotechnology. And this happened, or I think a change of opinion in the industry happened, in 2002, 2003, in the medical field in 2003, 2004, and now, more recently, basically, as you know, it's a public acceptance of the field as being an emerging field with large societal implications.

>> McCourt: Okay. Peidong Yang, would you like to comment?

>> Dr. Yang: Yeah, actually, I can actually elaborate a little bit. One of the examples I listed at the beginning--This is something, I will say, is more for high--A little bit on the high-end application with the nanostructure and nanosystems that nowadays the research labs are working on. And I believe we will see more and more of these type of nanostructure systems maybe in the market as well in the next 5, 10 years. This is something I'm referring to and the system we're developing in this Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems. And this is a fully self-powered system, and within this system, we are going to use these solar cells that are made from the nanostructure. Again, that's the building block to device. Then this self-powered system can do the following. You can--Let's say you can place this system in your environment to detect a certain kind of pollutant in the air or detect maybe arsenic in water--So any sort of these things you want to detect in the environment. Then, besides this detection, this little system can also do cellular transmission. Let's say this system can transmit that detection signal to a central station. Then the central station can basically respond. Then the--Actually, the system I'm talking about can continue to the next step, maybe even do some sort of action. Let's say the environmental remediation can clean up in that particular area. So these are all--I think we're really working towards starting from simple building blocks that give you, for example, high-sensitivity in terms of detection. Then you incorporate these energy components within these systems. You've incorporated these transmission devices inside the system. Then you have these multiple functionalities within one nanostructure system. And I believe we will see more and more of these types of things in the future.

>> McCourt: Somebody asked by e-mail regarding the sensing devices. It says, "How large would they be, including the sensor and the power supply and everything?”

>> Dr. Yang: I can actually, again, continue using this particular example. The whole package of the system we're really thinking about is around, I will say, if you're considering the power, considering the sensor, considering the transmitting unit, we're really talking about a centimeter by a centimeter here, or even smaller.

>> McCourt: A cubic centimeter or smaller?

>> Dr. Yang: Yeah. That will include everything.

>> McCourt: And this e-mail asks, "How does it compare to its competition in the macroworld," if there is any competition I guess."

>> Dr. Yang: Well, in the--Certainly there is competition in the microworld in terms of the--Most of those are coming from--Actually, in this type of research, there are two ways to talk about how to make these types of systems. Usually when we talk about the integrated nanostructure systems, we're talking about what some call a building-up approach. So we started with molecule, making these nano building blocks, then fabricating them into a device, then assemble them together. So this is something we call as "building up.” Then the competition is really coming from another approach, which would be top-down approach. It's the--Based on optical lithography, based on heating lithography. Basically, you started with bulk material, and you carve out those individual components. So, the competition is there, but the--With the traditional top-down approach, the feature size or the dimension that you can reach with the top-down approach is not necessarily as small as the molecular level. So it's not--Eventually, you wouldn't say the competition from the top-down approach is out of there, but eventually, the--When we are going to solve the ultimate problems where we'll have to combine those two approaches together, so eventually we'll have to use a certain percentage of building-up approach to build up our individual building block and component device, and, on the other hand, the top-down approach will help us to assemble these little components into a fully functional system. And this is exactly the approach we're taking in this Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems.

>> McCourt: Good. All right. And, Barbara Baird, did you have a comment before we go to the next question?

>> Dr. Baird: No, I don't think so. I think that was handled pretty well. I can comment on sort of the biological aspects of this in terms of what--Where we're going in being able to take tiny amounts of fluids and detect multiple analytes and the ways that are going about to build in the recognition devices but also how that gets amplified into a signal that can be evaluated.

>> Dr. Roco: Maybe to make a comment, in fact, it's not a competition between micro and nano. It's a combination. In fact, by 2000, there's no commercial application for micro--for microdevices--because it was expensive and was not producing new phenomena, new behavior, or new advantage. Now nano, by producing this new advantage that can be incorporated in microsystems, it brings radio to microsystems, and so it's a kind of synergies between the two fields.

>> McCourt: Okay. Are there other questions? Michelle?

>> Michelle: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Bo Varga with Nanotechnology Now. Your line is open.

>> Varga: Thank you. Yes. It was really a question, I guess, for all three members of the audience, I mean, of the speakers, but specifically for Dr. Yang. I was just curious as to whether he's working on a technology road map. It's kind of a similar question asked by the lady from U.S. News & World Report. But more generally, I'm sure in industry at least, you know, companies work with a technology road map, where their goal is to accomplish certain things in certain times, and I'm just wondering whether he has, I guess, a 5-year plan or a 10-year plan or what he sees coming and when.

>> Dr. Yang: Yeah, that's definitely is an excellent suggestion to develop a nanotech road map. I do have a sort of research road map for my research group. But on the national level, I think it would be definitely a good idea to develop something like that. I know the--At least for the semiconductor industry, they do have such--I want to say they're already into the nano--Sort of nanotechnology research. They are developing these, for example for the computer transistors. Intel is developing these different--All these road maps for different sizes of transistors, gone down to several tenths of nanometers now. But I guess on the research level or national-research level, in terms of developing such a road map for nanoscience and for nanotechnology, I think that's really necessary. I don't know. Mihail, you want to add?

>> Varga: Yeah, one quick comment, which is I follow the Solar America Initiative, and I follow the impact of nano for the energy area, which is the batteries, the fuel cells, and especially thin-film solar, and there certainly are--I mean, NREL [National Renewable Energy Laboratory] in particular, it certainly does seem to have, you know, very--Fairly precise goals in terms of price performance and the kind of timelines, but that's really focused on a specific area of energy, so...

>> Dr. Roco: Well, I can make a comment for the bigger picture and also for some few specific fields. Nanotechnology in 2003 envisioned that the field would develop to be--To have large broad, applications in society in about 20 years. And we've discussed in the first five years--that means after 2005, 2006--we'll be focused on single phenomena, components, building blocks that were mentioned before. Now we are starting to move in acting devices, and eventually, in 2010, we'll start to build prototypes for systems. And eventually those systems will start to use smaller and smaller components, and eventually, by the end of 2015, 2020, we'll have so-called molecular nanosystems. Now, for each field, subfield, one can develop more specific targets. One such kind of collaboration that we have between NSF and semiconductor industry is on nanoelectronics. You know probably we have a road map for Nanoelectronics Research Initiative where we target by 2008 to develop, eventually, new concepts to replace the electron--the electron charge, as a medium for transmission of information with a new state that is not defined yet, and there are specific targets for different parts of the improvement in existing CMOS [Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor] and in development of the new field. Also, there are different road maps, for instance, for forestry, or for in different chemical areas. However, it is difficult to develop a road map for all nanotechnology because nanotechnology is-- has so many applications in so many fields. I think also that industry should take a lead in this industry association because many applications are related to the industry needs. This means, in short, I think that the nanotechnology by 2020 will establish like a core development in the economy, and we expect major breakthroughs in new systems and new concepts after 2010.

>> Varga: Thank you.

>> McCourt: All right, in relation to that, there was another e-mail that somebody asked about public and private funding and what roles the two different--The government and industry should play in this. How do you feel about that, Mike Roco?

>> Dr. Roco: Well, I could tell that already initially the role of government is the most important to fund very exploratory research that industry cannot fund because it's not bringing a benefit in three to five years. Now, more and more, it's interesting. Already industry in the United States has exceeded the expenditure for research and development in 2004, 2005. To give the numbers for 2006, the federal government spent in 2006 about $1.3 billion federal money, about another $400 million state and local organization money, while the industries spent about $1.8 billion, $1.9 billion. That means this is already a recognition. In 2000, industry was spending less than 10% of the federal government. Now it's spending more than the federal government. And--However, the role of federal government is very important because it's providing this foundation. Horizontal, multidisciplinary development in basic concepts, basic systems, and I think this will continue.

>> McCourt: All right. Thanks. I was just told that we can go a few minutes longer than 2:30, so if you're waiting to ask a question, we can keep going a little bit longer than that. Michelle, if there's another on line, we'll--We are ready for that.

>> Michelle: Maya Plentz with Florida International University, you may ask your question.

>> Plentz: Yes, hello?

>> McCourt: You're on.

>> Plentz: Can you hear me?

>> McCourt: Yes, we can.

>> Plentz: Thank you. Nanotechnology allows packing density on the order of the human brain in terms of memory and execution of instructions per second. How far off are we from realizing this in terms of supercomputer chips?

>> Dr. Yang: Let me comment on that. The... Developing these computers with ultrahigh computing power based on these nanostructures certainly is one of the main motivations of these nanostructure research. That's basically also including the earlier research on the carbon nanotube research. Then, more recently, lots of research labs are looking into developing these nanowire-based transistors, and to pack them into high density. The--Again, I have to mention there are two approaches. One is bottom-up, one is top-down, and this is the common nanotube research, Nanowire research, is more or less self-assembled approach. And in this case, I believe we are still at the level of the individual device level. So, in terms of integration or in terms of the multilayer integration, it's in multilayers of the functional units, built up from the individual nanotube or nanowire. There are tremendous amounts of problems needing to be solved before we really can come up with, for example, a computer system based on nanotube or a nanowire with really high computing power. So there are lots of challenging issues still out there we are working on. On the other hand, the top-down approach is doing fairly well in terms of the--Basically, using all the lithography approach to curve up the individual functional units from bulk--That are from bulk silicon. And it's that in the--One of the major advantages from the top-down approach is you automatically solve the registration issue and integration issue. So I think in that sense, right now, the top-down approach has a little bit more advantage, but, again, as Mihail mentioned earlier, the--One of the major advantages for working on these nanomaterials is you will discover new phenomena coming out from these nanoscale dimensions. So, most likely, in the future that there might be a new paradigm appear after people discover there is new phenomena coming out from these nanoscale systems, so the whole sort of computing scheme might be changed. It can basically be any sort of nontraditional type of computing.

>> Plentz: And I have one more question that's policy related, and it's a three-part question. And--I don't know--perhaps any of the panelists could answer but Mrs. Baird perhaps wants to answer that. What areas of the nanotechnology research that are being--What are the areas of nanotechnology research that are being funded by the federal agencies that you see? Where the research dollars are going? And do you see that applications and research and development in the medical area are being conducted mostly by the private sector, and what are the implications of the private sector being the main driver of R&D in the medical area in nanotechnology? And the third part of the question--Is it realistic to think, or, more importantly, should the U.S. government take the lead?

>> Dr. Baird: Well, Mike probably has the broadest view on how the funding is playing in certainly from the federal viewpoint, but I can say that from my perspective, a lot of the support for nanotechnology research in the biomedical areas is coming from the federal agencies led in this nanotechnology area by the NSF. And then the NIH has been getting involved in the last several years and encouraging applications specific for the kinds of diseases, the range of diseases that NIH is oriented towards. It comes from--Nanotechnology really comes from the engineering side, so it was perhaps appropriate that NSF has been such a strong and welcome supporter, but much of the effort, in fact, has been to bring together this engineering and materials force with the very important biological problems, because from some perspectives, this is a whole new set of tools not yet tested, although coming with great promise, so it really requires that a whole range of scientists and engineers work together on that, so to get back to your question, the NSF, the NIH, and other--Some of the other federal agencies are getting involved in a big way--Number one, to bring the appropriate scientists together to develop the tools, but also to orient them in the most direct and efficient way possible towards the really important biological or biomedical problems that really need to be addressed that the current therapeutic methodologies are clearly insufficient, and these bring a whole new and very promising way of getting at them through, say, drug delivery, ways of detection at very early levels, personalized medicine, and so forth.

>> McCourt: Okay, is there another question, Michelle? Anybody else queued up?

>> Michelle: We have no further questions.

>> McCourt: Okay. I had some actually related to Dr. Yang's research. Nanowires have been mentioned for a lot of different devices. I don't want to ask you to sort of promise that we'll have a flat-screen TV in my home based on it, although if there is, you can let me know. But, you know, are there a lot--It seems like that's one side of the nanotechnology issue is that it's gonna suppress a lot of questions or fill a lot of things that can be done more cheaply than they are now. But you mentioned also the idea of novel new things that maybe nobody had ever thought of before. In terms of your research and where you see things going, what's most interesting to you--making a better solar cell or maybe discovering a new way of energy conversion?

>> Dr. Yang: Those are the--One of, actually, my main research interests is--Certainly one is developing these one-dimensional nanostructures, and then, on the application end, we're having really focused on the--More on the energy applications. Like, developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells that work better than light-emitting diodes. Or the solid-state lighting purpose with high--much better--efficiency. In this case, basically, one of the advantages is to utilize these--we usually call them as single-crystalline or defect-free semiconductor nanowires. These wires are perfect, essentially. When you grow them, it's like one small chunk of this material that's defect-free, and if they are defect-free, that means that they can--For example, they can engineer it in such a way that it will absorb light much better. They can transport charges much faster. Or they can emit light with tunable wavelengths. All these phenomena actually is really coming from this by making these semiconductors into nanometer dimensions. And these new physical properties or new, improved physical properties can be used in our design of the next generation of solar cell, next generation of light-emitting diodes. I think in terms of the--By making these nanostructures in this special form, they do have an advantage in terms of making better devices. Again, for us, we are mainly focused on the energy sector.

>> McCourt: Okay. Do you think we'll all be having nanodevices--I'm talking about big devices--in our homes?

>> Dr. Yang: Well, eventually, if you--we need to solve, basically--Of course, we have been looking into these low-cost sort of processes to make. You have to--If you want to utilize these devices in the larger scale, you have to develop--You have to develop a low-cost process. We're developing a low-cost process to really match--For the match in production purpose. So, eventually, I believe we will see low-cost and high-efficiency devices in the household based on these different types of nanostructures.

>> McCourt: Okay. In the context of a defect-free toaster, that's fascinating to me. [Laughter] Okay. Anyway, so, I think we can probably just kind of wrap it up. Barbara Baird, do you want to comment on anything that--Is nanotechnology gonna enable you to ask new questions?

>> Dr. Baird: Oh, absolutely. And, it already has. We're never at a loss for questions, whether or not we have nanotechnology or not, but I will--I will point to one area of--Or one aspect of the sort of research we do, and that is to understand how cells work--by incorporating many, many molecules, and what we're finding is that getting answers at the micron scale is leading us to new questions at the nanoscale. And going through that way, we're able to ask really intelligent questions and get at ultimately how these molecules are interacting to make this whole complex organism work, and I think that's one of the things I'm most excited about in terms of the basic research that this is now enabling and with the information that comes from this basic research, then, we can intervene much more appropriately in therapeutic approaches.

>> McCourt: Thanks. Mike Roco, did you have any other comments to finish with?

>> Dr. Roco: Well, maybe I will follow the idea of Barbara that nanoscale science and engineering will help to understand the basic mechanisms of life better than we do now, and in industry will help to do more economical processing and do things that were not possible before in an efficient way. That means the main advantage for nano is, as you know--Is certainly a restructuring of the first level of organization of atoms and molecules where all basic properties and functions are established and could be changed economically with small amounts of material, with small amounts of energy, small amounts of water. And so why we don't do this now? Because we don't have the basic understanding. I mean, the main challenge still for the field--The main problems are basic understanding and tools for measurement. Once we solve this, certainly, next phase will be manufacturing. And I think these issues will be pretty well answered, probably, by 2020.

>> McCourt: All right, thanks very much. Well, I want to thank Dr. Baird, Dr. Roco, and Dr. Yang for being in the call-in today and for all the reporters for being there. Also, Michelle, thanks a lot for helping out. Josh tells me also we have a couple of things that might be of interest to the reporters. We have B-roll footage of Dr. Yang and also footage of a nanowire laser in print-resolution-quality images if you're interested, so all you have to do is e-mail him and he'll provide you with what you need. So, thanks again, and I hope to hear from you next time we have one of these events.

>> Dr. Roco: Thank you.

>> Dr. Yang: Thank you.

>> Dr. Baird: Thank you.

>> Michelle: That does conclude today's call. Thank you all for your participation. You may disconnect your lines at this time.

>> Dr. Roco: Okay.

Return to the audio. Also see the Media Advisory about this event.


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