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Microscopy techniques focus on nanotech.

Although the full impact of nanotechnology lies far in the future, the field is already having a significant effect on one business: surface science analytical techniques. To view, analyze and perform experiments on the nanoscale, where the world is measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter, researchers must employ sophisticated microscopy techniques, most of which are less than 50 years old and whose invention and developments gave birth to nanotechnology.

In 2005, nanotech-based products are expected to generate $4 billion in sales, according to Lux Research. Worldwide government investments in nanotechnology topped $3.7 billion last year, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF estimates put total government R&D investments at more than $4.1 billion in 2005, up 10.8%.

Nanotechnology has many definitions. Lux Research defines nanotechnobgy as encompassing "nanomaterials," such as nanoparticles and quantum dots, "nanointermediates," including coatings and optical components, and "nano-enabled products," which include commercialized nanotech products such as nanocomposite coatings and stain-proof fabrics. According to Craig Prater, Ph.D., director of Technology Development for Veeco Metrology, "Nanoscience is the study of things with nanometer scale dimensions and the new properties that occur at that scale. Nanotechnology is the attempt to use those dimensions and those properties to create new products and technologies."

However, nanotech is not that new to some researchers and industries. Intel's latest computer chips feature 65-nanometer processing technology. Yet, even here, the discovery and application of new properties of nanoscale materials, such as carbon nanotubes and nanowires, are expected to enable the next generation of semiconductor and electronic technologies.

Government is by far the largest contributor to nanotech research, but corporate expenditures are quickly increasing, often in partnership with public and academic funding initiatives. Corporate nanotech R&D expenditures totaled $3.8 billion last year, according to Lux Research, led by General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and Mitsui & Company. In addition, venture capitalists poured more than $400 million into nanotechnology companies in 2004. Chemical industry efforts include the formation last year of the public-private National Nanotechnology Initiative-Chemical Industry Consultative Board for Advancing Nanotechnology. Also last year, the Semiconductor Industry Association announced the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, a public-private effort to enable electronic devices with sub-10 nm features.

One microscopy technique at the heart of nanotechnology R&D is scanning probe microscopy (SPM). SPM encompasses three main techniques: atomic force microscopy (AFM) (see IBO 12/31/94), scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) (see IBO 5/15/05). Major SPM manufacturers include NT-MDT, Omicron Nano and Veeco Instruments. The SPM market is estimated to grow over 30% to more than $300 million between 2005 and 2008. Although the primary end-user, both for nanotech and non-nanotech applications, is the semiconductor Industry, publicly funded nanotech research is the fastest growing market segment.

SPM measures physical, electrical and magnetic forces of a sample surface in three dimensions. AFM is the fastest growing SPM technique due to its ease of use and versatility. AFM can provide horizontal resolution as fine as 100 angstroms (A) (an A is equivalento to a tenth of a nanometer) and vertical resolution down to 1 [Angstrom]. According to Dr. Prater, current nanotech applications using AFM include the development of molecular electronics, the study of the biocapatibility of implant materials and new materials development.

AFM can also to be used to interact with nanoscale materials. Examples of nanomanipulation include force pulling and indentation Veeco's NanoMan II System features a new Hybrid XYZ Scanner, allowing greater control and accuracy for nanomanipulation. Dr. Prater describes the product as "an AFM head that has the ability to very precisely position and hold the tip in a specific location, and that's very important in applications called nanomanipulation or nanolithography or nanopatteming.... [You use it] to basically create a nanoscale structure on which experiments can be done."

NSOM combines SPM techniques with optical microscopy techniques, enabling measurements of optical intensity, and thus greater contrast, as well as polarization and fluorescence. NSOM also allows molecular spectroscopy techniques to be used, making compositional analysis possible. NSOM resolution is 50 nm. One NSOM application that is particularly useful for nanotechnology, Dr. Prater tells IBO, is single molecule spectroscopy. "The ability to isolate a single molecule and study its properties is an important foundation [for nanotechnology]," he says.

Electron microscopes, the other major analytical tool most utilized in nanotechnology research, also enables surface characterization as well as sample characterization in selected cases. The three major electron microscopy techniques are scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and focused ion beam (FIB), or dual beam, SEM. The electron microscope market, defined as these three techniques, is estimated to reach more than $1.2 billion by 2008. Sales of SEM initial systems, the largest and fastest growing segment, are estimated to total more than $590 million by 2008, up more than 25% from 2005. FEI, Hitachi, JEOL and Carl Zeiss offer all three techniques.

SEM is the largest and fastest growing of the three electron microscopy techniques discussed here. SEMs can analyze the shape, size and arrangement of particles on the sample surface as well as particle composition and crystallographic information. Today's SEMs boast resolution down to 3 nm. TEMs, an older technique, has a far higher resolution, down to the sub-[Angstrom] level, but require greater operator skill and more sample preparation. "[T]here are different technologies, such as scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), where you can achieve resolution of less than one nanometer, so for a lot of applications and samples, you don't have to go for TEM," says Jens Greiser, strategic marketing manager at FEI. STEMs are easier to use than TEMs and provide much greater resolution than SEMs. FEI's newly Introduced Titan 80-300 STEM features imaging below 0.7 [Angstrom].

Using gallium ions in addition to electrons, FIB SEM enables manipulation of nanometer-sized particles and enables three dimensional imaging. "One function [of dual beam SEM) is opening up layers, or accessing the third dimension .... The second function is that you have gas chemistries with the FIB so you can also deposit materials and that means you can manipulate or prototype things... [making it] a tool for nanoprototyping or nanofabrication. So with dual beams, you can shape material at the nanoscale," says Dr. Greiser.

Although nanotechnology is still in its infancy, the publicity surrounding it is not. Although the hype might promise too much, too soon, current efforts are very much focused on furthering nanotech commercialization. "I think that basic research at the moment is targeting the 20-year scale and looking into things which are 20 years ahead," says Dr. Greiser. "But in the United States, you see a lot of spin outs from universities in order to commercialize what was done 5-10 years ago in research," he adds.

"The leaders of the nanotech funding effort truly understand and realize that the taxpayers are providing the money to do this research with the full expectation of a return on their investment," says Dr. Prater. "[The US government] recognizes and encourages commercialization of these techniques, and encourages partnerships between industry and universities, and also encourages collaboration between different universities and different departments between universities," he says.

Similar commitments are being made worldwide. "It's almost like a space race at the moment among these various regions ... nobody wants to be left behind," says Dr. Prater.
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
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Date:May 31, 2005
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