Spirit of collaboration is livin’ large in Texas

by Debra Vogler, Senior Technical Editor

At the recent nanoTX’06 event in Dallas (9/26-9/28), Texas Instruments announced its participation and funding of the Southwest Academy of Nanoelectronics (SWAN), and SEMATECH was lauded by Texas Governor Rick Perry for its participation in the “Texas Alliance for Nanoelectronics” (TxAN) and the Nanotechnology Workforce Development Initiative. Interviewed by WaferNews after the event, conference presenter Dr. Randy Goodall of SEMATECH discussed similarities between the current state of nanotechnology funding — federal and state governments and other entities supporting multiple initiatives — with the focused way in which projects and funding was handled in the race to the moon.

With all the collaborations and alliances already being formed around nanotechnology, would it make sense to coalesce these efforts into a broader nanotechnology mission — something comparable to the US’ space race in the 60s, which ultimately fueled many a young person’s drive to study science? While acknowledging that the space program was amazing, Goodall pointed out that the scientists back then had to invent a lot of things (e.g., rocketry), while with today’s sophisticated computer modeling capabilities, scientists can do a lot more modeling of a world that has yet to be invented. The real impact of nanotech, Goodall asserts, will come from its large-scale distribution to humanity, as compared to its individual unit discoveries.

Furthermore, Goodall believes that after 40+ years of maintaining the pace of Moore’s Law, the focus needs to be on large-scale manufacturing and pushing high-replication nanoscale fabrication into other industries — goals that don’t align with a space race to Mars. “We’re not going to have a billion trips to Mars. We need one successful or a few successful ones,” he said, “and the total number of anything we need to build to go do that, is relatively small.”

The biggest impact of nanoscale materials and objects will come from their broad availability, and the ability to make them quickly and inexpensively so that they get out to people (new cancer therapies, for example), Goodall stressed. He noted that there are already many smart people working on the next “nano thing,” learning how to scale manufacturing, and replicate trillions of a specific device that might take a researcher one week to make in a lab.

Of course, the semiconductor industry does high-volume manufacturing every day — but Goodall suspects other nanomanufacturing models might be more suitable for other applications. He’d like to see a million kids go into science and technology to work on the nanomanufacturing problem, not necessarily go out and invent a better transistor.

To advance the need for coordination among different industries with differing requirements and goals, Goodall and other TxAN members representing a cross-section of industries spent a day analyzing the potential to cross-leverage the semiconductor industry and its roadmap and technology pipeline into other industries in the state, and summarized research areas with synergy across their industries (see table, below).

“We had guys from oil and gas, from NASA, from semiconductor, and biotech, all talking together,” Goodall told WaferNews. “If you’re not used to doing roadmapping and having these kinds of conversations, sometimes you don’t even realize the importance of what you’re talking about until you see it shown back at you in a way that illustrates that this cross-industry leverage is true. We’re so used to doing this in the semiconductor industry and at SEMATECH especially — we do this stuff everyday.”

Goodall hopes other industries engaged in various aspects of nanotechnology R&D will incorporate the semiconductor industry’s discipline and techniques in precompetitive collaboration and roadmapping. Other industries may not see the advantages of having a roadmap when their idea of a “fast” pace is a 10-year time span, and with a miniscule R&D rate compared to what is required in the semiconductor industry to move forward with new products, he pointed out.

Goodall invoked the “social contract of the information age,” made possible by the economic fall-out from following Moore’s Law, as an “inexorable force” that delivers more capability at the same price. “And that’s good for humanity, good for business, good for profits, good for job security, and good for national defense,” he said. — D.V.

Next week WaferNEWS will discuss similar nanotechnology initiatives and collaborations with Bob Doering, Senior Fellow and technology strategy manager at Texas Instruments.

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