Why small is really big

Friday, May 10, 2013, 12:00am

by Semiconductor Industry Association


A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, essentially a measurement of matter on the molecular and atomic scale.  To put this size in context, a human hair is between 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers in diameter. To even see something this small requires special instruments such as tunneling electron microscopes. Scientists and researchers have been studying nanotechnology–that is, utilizing technology less than 100 nanometers—since the mid-1980s. Recent breakthroughs like ultrastrong and tough nano fibers that could be used in composite materials like bullet-proof vests, or nanosponges that can absorb toxins in the blood,  have the power to transform entire sectors of our economy and, more importantly, improve our lives. 

When this research is applied to electronics and transistors (which are the building blocks of semiconductors), nanoelectronics has the potential to uncover new breakthroughs to allow us to do things once unimaginable. Nanoelectronics may enable us to harness the energy from the spin of an electron or even store data on atoms, and to continue to shrink the size of a semiconductor while increasing its capabilities.  Sounds like science fiction, but these types of discoveries are happening now and will have a really big impact on the way we live our lives well into the future; which is why the recent announcement by the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC)-a research consortia founded by the SIA in 1982 – is significant.

Yesterday, SRC announced that the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI) is entering into its second phase with a combined annual funding level of $5 million. The NRI program funds nanoelectronics research at universities across the country and leverages funding from both private industry and from the federal government through National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). While semiconductor companies are actively researching and pursuing breakthroughs in nanoelectronics, it is important to recognize that the federal government plays a significant and necessary role in funding precompetitive nanoelectronics research. SIA and our member companies are strong advocates for this funding and we continue to educate policymakers on why small is, really big.