BOSTON - The science of nanotechnology is already making semiconductors faster and more powerful, but challenges loom in the distance that U.S. researchers are not prepared to tackle at current levels of funding, according to an Intel Corp. executive speaking at the Nanotech 2004 trade show Monday.
The Bush administration has raised funding for nanotechnology research at U.S. federal agencies and universities, but more emphasis is needed on engineering along with research, said David Tennenhouse, vice president of Intel's corporate technology group, in a keynote address to conference attendees.
Nanotechnology is the study and engineering of materials with dimensions measuring less than a millionth of a meter. Much of that study has thus far centered on the semiconductor industry, although there are many applications for nanotechnology in the medical and biotechnology fields, for example.
Universities do a great job of developing new ideas and testing them under lab conditions with funding from the U.S. government as well as from companies like Intel, Tennenhouse said. However, more funding should be directed toward university projects that take new materials and new approaches and develop prototypes based on those technologies, he said.
This approach will become critical as current CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) manufacturing technology scales down even further into the realm of nanotechnology, he said.
Intel recently rolled out its first products based on its 90-nanometer process technology generation, and has built and tested prototype transistors all the way down to the 22 nanometer range, Tennenhouse said. This should keep the current pace of processor improvements going through the end of this decade, he said.
Researchers and engineers will have to identify new materials and new structures to replace current transistors by the year 2013, Tennenhouse said. Intel is working on an expansion of its tri-gate transistor approach, first unveiled in 2002, to develop a transistor with the gate material wrapped completely around the transistor channel, he said.
This technology is one example that could help chip designers build transistors past the 22-nanometer range, Tennenhouse said. More research needs to be done into these types of devices, such as carbon nanotubes and nanowires, in order to ensure that performance will continue to improve in the next decade, he said.
The U.S. government is committed to providing funds for that research, said Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), in an earlier speech.
A division of the National Science and Technology Council, the NNCO is responsible for doling out grant money to universities and federal agencies that are working on interesting and important nanotechnology projects, Teague said.
In late 2003, the U.S. Congress passed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which provides US$3.7 billion for research over three years starting in 2005. Congress has approved $961 million in funding for 2004, an increase of 11 percent over the 2003 budget, Teague said.
While the current year's funding is a fraction of the overall $127 billion allocated to research and development, half of which goes to the U.S. Department of Defense, nanotechnology funding has now doubled since 2001, Teague said.
Other countries in Europe and Asia are also increasing funding for nanotechnology research, and the U.S. will want to keep pace with development in those countries, Teague said.
The Nanotech 2004 conference is sponsored by the Nano Science and Technology Institute, and continues through Thursday in Boston.