NANO 101


For Rent: One Nano Research Lab…
by Earl Boysen  /  March 24th, 2008

Say you’re an aspiring young nanotechnologist with an idea for a new
product. What are the barriers to moving your project forward? One big
barrier is the cost of the equipment to build and test your nano-based
prototype. For example an ebeam lithography system has a price tag of
a million dollars, not counting the cost of installation, a facility
to put it in, and maintance. The reality is that not just every Tom,
Dick, or Mary can set up a nano lab. What’s a researcher to do? Rent a
lab. Several labs and facilities are making their equipment available for
nano related projects. Some simply charge a rental fee, others may
waive some or all fees if your research is non-proprietary. Still
others will test your materials for you if your research is allied
with their mission. Here’s a rundown of some of the facilities
offering this nifty service.

NNIN Lucky 13
If your in need of a lab your first step might be to see if one of the
thirteen facilities of The National Nanotechnology Infrastructure
Network (NNIN) located close to you has the equipment you need. These
facilities, supported by the National Science Foundation, are focused
on nanoscale fabrication and characterization (for example measuring
particle size distribution or material strength).

These centers are all located at universities such as Cornell,
Stanford, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas at
Austin, University of Minnesota, and Harvard. Each was funded by the
NSF to provide facilities for researchers from industry and other
universities. After completing a training program to qualify on a
particular tool you can rent equipment to use in building or
characterizing your little bit of nano material.

The DOE Office of Science Supports Nano Materials Research

If you are developing new nanomaterials you’ll be happy to hear that
the DOE has created five facilities called Nanoscale Science Research
Centers. These Research Centers are located in National Labs scattered
around the country: Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois;
Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State; Lawrence Berekely
National Laboratory in California; Oak Ridge National Laboratory in
Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The goal of these facilities is to encourage the development and
characterization of new nanomaterials. Each research center has a
number of focus areas that draws upon the expertise and equipment of
the National Lab where they are located.

For example, one focus at the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory is on biological nanostructures; one focus at The
Center for Nanophase Material Science at Oak Ridge National Lab is on
nano enhanced catalysts, while down in New Mexico the Center for
Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Lab includes among its
focusses nanophotonics and nanoelectronics.

Measuring Health
Making progress in the fight against cancer often requires synergistic
efforts that involve sharing ideas and tools. The National Cancer
Institute, in association with the National Institute of Standards and
Technology and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established a
Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory in Maryland. The mission of
this facility is to perform preclinical efficacy and toxicity testing
of nanoparticles in order to accelerate the transition of
nanoparticles into clinical applications.

If you’ve developed a nanoparticle for the treatment of cancer but
can’t afford to do the testing required to demonstrate that your
material is effective and safe, you can submit it to this facility,
but be sure to take a number: The testing program to characterize
physical attributes, biological properties, and compatibility of
nanoparticles takes about a year.

Nanofabrication and Measurement
The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) Nanofab in
Maryland is part of the National Institute of Standards and
Technology. The mission of the CNST is to solve nanoscale measurement
problems that hamper the progress of nanotechnology research.

These folks charge an hourly fee. If your research is non-proprietary
and could help to solve a nano measurement problem that supports the
production of nanobased applications you may be in luck. They may
offer discounted fees or waive fees entirely.

For more information on nanotechnology research labs and links to the
labs mentioned here:

National Institute of Standards Technology’s Nanofab
Nanoscale Science Research Centers Founded by US Department of Energy
The Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Lab.
The Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Lab.
The Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
The Center for Nanophase Material Sciences at Oak Ridge National Lab.
The Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia and Los Alamos
National Labs.

A Green Energy Industry Takes Root in California
by Matt Richtel and John Markoff  /  February 1, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — The sun is starting to grow jobs. While interest in
alternative energy is climbing across the United States, solar power
especially is rising in California, the product of billions of dollars
in investment and mountains of enthusiasm. In recent months, the
industry has added several thousand jobs in the production of solar
energy cells and installation of solar panels on roofs. A spate of
investment has also aimed at making solar power more efficient and
less costly than natural gas and coal.

Entrepreneurs, academics and policy makers say this era’s solar
industry is different from what was tried in the 1970s, when Jerry
Brown, then the governor of California, invited derision for
envisioning a future fueled by alternative energy. They point to
companies like SolarCity, an installer of rooftop solar cells based in
Foster City. Since its founding in 2006, it has grown to 215 workers
and $29 million in annual sales. “It is hard to find installers,” said
Lyndon Rive, the chief executive. “We’re at the stage where if we
continue to grow at this pace, we won’t be able to sustain the
growth.” SunPower, which makes the silicon-based cells that turn
sunlight into electricity, reported 2007 revenue of more than $775
million, more than triple its 2006 revenue. The company expects sales
to top $1 billion this year. SunPower, based in San Jose, said its
stock price grew 251 percent in 2007, faster than any other Silicon
Valley company, including Apple and Google.

Not coincidentally, three-quarters of the nation’s demand for solar
comes from residents and companies in California. “There is a real
economy — multiple companies, all of which have the chance to be
billion-dollar operators,” said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor in the
energy and resources group at the University of California, Berkeley.
California, he says, is poised to be both the world’s next big solar
market and its entrepreneurial center. The question, Professor Kammen
says, is: “How can we make sure it’s not just green elite or green
chic, and make it the basis for the economy?” There also are huge
challenges ahead, not the least of which is the continued dominance of
fossil fuels. Solar represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the
$3 trillion global energy market, leading some critics to suggest that
the state is getting ahead of itself, as it did during the 1970s. The
optimists say a crucial difference this time is the participation of
private-sector investors and innovators and emerging technologies.
Eight of more than a dozen of the nation’s companies developing
photovoltaic cells are based in California, and seven of those are in
Silicon Valley. Among the companies that academics and entrepreneurs
believe could take the industry to a new level is Nanosolar, which
recently started making photovoltaic cells in a 200,000-square-foot
factory in San Jose. The company said the first 18 months of its
capacity has already been booked for sales in Germany. “They could
absolutely transform the market if they make good on even a fraction
of their goal for next year,” Professor Kammen said. “They’re not just
a new entrant, but one of the biggest producers in the world.”

Many of the California companies are start-ups exploring exotic
materials like copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, an alternative
to the conventional crystalline silicon that is now the dominant
technology. The newcomers hope that CIGS, while less efficient than
silicon, can be made far more cheaply than silicon-based cells.
Indeed, the Nanosolar factory looks more like a newspaper plant than a
chip-making factory. The CIGS material is sprayed onto giant rolls of
aluminum foil and then cut into pieces the size of solar panels.
Another example is Integrated Solar, based in Los Angeles, which has
developed a low-cost approach to integrating photovoltaic panels
directly into the roofs of commercial buildings. In 2007, 100
megawatts of solar generating capacity was installed in California,
about a 50 percent increase over 2006, according to the Solar Energy
Industries Association, a trade group.

That growth rate is likely to increase, in part because of ambitious
new projects like the 177-megawatt solar thermal plant that Pacific
Gas and Electric said last November it would build in San Luis Obispo.
The plant, which will generate power for more than 120,000 homes
beginning in 2010, will be built by Ausra, a Palo Alto start-up backed
by the investor Vinod Khosla and his former venture capital firm,
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The industry in California is also
helped by state and local governments’ substantial subsidies to
stimulate demand. The state has earmarked $3.2 billion to subsidize
solar installation, with the goal of putting solar cells on one
million rooftops. The state Assembly passed a law to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, which could spur alternatives
like solar. Additional incentives have come from a small but growing
number of municipalities. The city of Berkeley will pay the upfront
costs for a resident’s solar installation and recoup the money over 20
years through additional property taxes on a resident’s home. San
Francisco is preparing to adopt its own subsidy that would range from
$3,000 for a home installation to as much as $10,000 for a business.

The subsidies have prompted a surge in private investment, led by
venture capitalists. In 2007, these seed investors put $654 million in
33 solar-related deals in California, up from $253 million in 16 deals
in 2006, according to the Cleantech Group, which tracks investments in
alternative energy. California received roughly half of all solar
power venture investments made in 2007 in the United States. “We’re
just starting to see successful companies come out through the other
end of that process,” said Nancy C. Floyd, managing director at Nth
Power, a venture capital firm that focuses on alternative energy. “And
through innovation and volume, prices are coming down.” Whether any of
this investment pays off depends, as it did in previous eras, on
reaching the point at which solar cells produce electricity as
inexpensively as fossil fuels. The cost of solar energy is projected
to fall steeply as cheaper new technology reaches economies of scale.
Optimists believe that some regions in California could reach that
point in half a decade.

At present, solar power is three to five times as expensive as coal,
depending on the technology used, said Dan Reicher, director for
climate change and energy initiatives at, the philanthropic
division of the Internet company. Among its investments, Google says,
is $10 million in financing for eSolar, a company in Pasadena that
builds systems that concentrate sunlight from reflecting mirrors.
“We’re at the dawn of a revolution that could be as powerful as the
Internet revolution,” Mr. Reicher said. The problem is, he said,
“renewable energy simply costs too much.” At a conference of
alternative energy companies in San Francisco last month, to discuss
how to encourage the industry’s growth, Mr. Brown, the former
governor, joked that if the participants wanted to make real headway
selling alternative energy, they should try not to come off as flaky.
“Don’t get too far ahead of yourselves,” said Mr. Brown, now the
state’s attorney general. “You will be stigmatized. Don’t use too many
big words and make it all sound like yesterday.”


Nanarchist: Someone who circumvents government control to use
nanotechnology, or someone who advocates this. [Eli Brandt, October

Nanarchy: The use of automatic law-enforcement by nanomachines or
robots, without any human control – see blue goo [Mark S. Miller].

Nanochondria: Nanomachines existing inside living cells, participating
in their biochemistry (like mitochondria) and/or assembling various
structures. See also nanosome. [Ken Clements 1996]

Nanodefenses: any of the “good” goo’s, such a Blue Goo. Protectors
against Grey Goo, destructive nanoswarms, and the like.

Nanodisaster: See the various ‘goo’ scenerios that have potentially
negative outcomes.

Nanogypsy: someone who travels form place to place, spreading the
“nano” word. Usually a person who takes the most optimistic viewpoint,
and is enthusitic. [uhf]

Nanohacking: describes what MNT is all about — “hacking” at the
molecular level.

Nanosome: Nanodevices existing symbiotically inside biological cells,
doing mechanosynthesis and disassembly for it and replicating with the
cell. Similar to nanochondria. [AS January 1998]

Nanotechism: the religion of nanotech, as opposed to the science of

Nanoterrorism: using MNT derived nanites to do damage to people or

Nano-test-tubes: CNT’s opened and filled with materials, and used to
carry out chemical reactions. See The Opening and Filling of Multi-
Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWTs) and The Opening and Filling of Single-
Walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWTs).

Nanny: A cell-repair nanite

NE3LS: Nanotechnology’s Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal, and
Social Implications. From ‘Mind the gap’: science and ethics in
nanotechnology. click here (requires free registration) [Anisa
Mnyusiwalla, Abdallah S. Daar and Peter A. Singer 2003 Nanotechnology
14 R9-R13. 13 Feb 2003]

Shape-shifting robot forms from magnetic swarm
by Tom Simonite  /  29 January 2008

Swarms of robots that use electromagnetic forces to cling together and
assume different shapes are being developed by US researchers. The
grand goal is to create swarms of microscopic robots capable of
morphing into virtually any form by clinging together. Seth Goldstein,
who leads the research project at Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, in the US, admits this is still a distant prospect.
However, his team is using simulations to develop control strategies
for futuristic shape-shifting, or “claytronic”, robots, which they are
testing on small groups of more primitive, pocket-sized machines.
These prototype robots use electromagnetic forces to manoeuvre
themselves, communicate, and even share power.

No moving parts
One set of claytronic prototypes were cylindrical, wheeled robots with
a ring of electromagnets around their edge, which they used to grab
hold of one another. By switching these electromagnets on and off, the
so-called “claytronic atoms” or “catoms” could securely attach and
roll around each other (see video, top right). The robot’s wheels were
not powered, so they had to rely entirely on their magnets to
manoeuvre themselves around. “These were the first mobile robots
without any moving parts,” says Goldstein. They also used their
electromagnets to share power, to communicate, and for simple sensing.

Since using magnetic forces are less efficient at smaller scales, the
team has now begun experimenting with electric forces instead. The
latest prototypes are box-shaped robots dubbed “cubes” that have six
plastic arms with star-shaped appendages at the end of each. These
stars have several flat aluminium electrodes and dock together, face
on, using static electricity. Electrodes on different stars are given
opposing charges, which causes the stars to attract each other. Once
connected, no power is needed to hold the stars together.
Micro-scale robots Tests have shown that it is possible to send
messages and power to other cubes over the same links. “Our hope is to
assemble around 100 cubes to experiment with ideas,” Goldstein says.

Rob Reid at the US Air Force Research Lab is collaborating with the
Carnegie Mellon team to develop even smaller prototype robots. Reid
and colleagues can fold flat silicon shapes into 3D forms as little as
a few hundred microns diameter. “We will drive those using electric
forces too, by patterning circuits and devices into the silicon
design,” Goldstein says. He predicts that by the summer of 2008 they
will have prototypes capable of rolling themselves around this way.
Modularity is a popular theme with robotics researchers around the
world. Other designs include Swarm-bots, Superbot, and M-TRAN.

Complex connections
“The physical mechanism for docking different pieces is really tough
to do,” says Alan Winfield, who works on artificially intelligent
swarms at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK. “Most use
mechanical latches with hooks.” Although these physical connections
are complex, they do not need power, Winfield points out, unlike
magnetic connections. Using electromagnetic forces may make more sense
at smaller sizes, he adds. “My guess is that electrostatic connectors
will come into their own on the micro scale where less power is needed
to have a large effect,” he says. But software, not hardware, may be
the biggest challenge facing researchers working on swarms of robots,
he says: “Right now we just don’t know how to design a system that
produces complex overall behaviours from a group of simple agents.”
Ultimately, Goldstein believes his claytronic robots may one day
achieve this, and much more: “I’ll be done when we produce something
that can pass a Turing test for appearance,” he says. “You won’t know
if you’re shaking hands with me or a claytronics copy of me.”

Alan FT Winfield
email : Alan [dot] Winfield [at] uwe [dot] ac [dot] uk

Seth Goldstein
email : seth [at] cs [dot] cmu [dot] edu


Marco Dorigo
email : mdorigo [at] ulb [dot] ac [dot] be

Francesco Mondada
email : francesco [dot] mondada [at] epfl [dot] ch

Robot swarm works together to shift heavy objects
by Tom Simonite  /  17 October 2006

A “swarm” of simple-minded robots that teams up to move an object too
heavy for them to manage individually has been demonstrated by
robotics researchers. The robots cannot communicate and must act only
on what they can see around them. They follow simple rules to fulfil
their task – mimicking the way insects work together in a swarm.

The robots were developed by Marco Dorigo at the Free University of
Brussels, Belgium, along with colleagues at the Institute of Cognitive
Science and Technology in Italy and the Autonomous Systems Laboratory
and Dalle Molle Institute for the Study of Artificial Intelligence,
both in Switzerland. “In the future we might have robots that actively
seek help from others when they come up a problem they can’t solve
alone,” says Dorigo, “For example if a robot can’t climb an obstacle
without tipping over it might go back and get others to climb over as
a group.” In experiments, six of the cylindrical robots were able to
drag an object across the floor of a room. Working autonomously, they
locate and assemble around the object and either grab hold of it
directly or of another robot nearby, before slowly dragging it towards
a target.

Mapping out
A video shows the six Swarm-bot robots gradually transporting a object
lit with red LEDs over to a large white target. Another video clip,
shown at 10 times normal speed, shows a larger team of robots working
together to map out a path from a red object and a blue target. This
strategy is necessary because none of the bots can see far enough to
work out the route between the object and its target for themselves.

Each Swarm-bot is 19 centimetres high, has a rotating turret, a claw-
like gripper and moves using a combination of caterpillar tracks and
wheels. Each also has a basic computer and is loaded with the same
software. The simple rules laid out in this software allow the robots
to perform complex actions as a group. A swarm of ants uses a similar
strategy to tackle difficult jobs like carrying a large object.

Evolving rules
The rules preloaded onto the Swarm-bots were “evolved” to suit the
particular task and incorporated genetics-based algorithms and a
detailed 3D simulation (see Nuclear reactors ‘evolve’ inside
supercomputers). “In the object transport scenario they search for a
red object and grasp onto it,” explains Dorigo. “When they do that
they also change colour from blue to red.” This means a cluster of
bots is “connected” to the object. When the bots cannot see any more
blue – meaning they are all linked together – they start dragging the
object towards its target.

The robots can adjust their caterpillar tracks, to ensure they are all
pulling in the right direction. “Each robot has a traction sensor
inside that detects all the external forces on it,” explains Dorigo. A
robot uses its sensor to identify any conflicting forces, and then
changes direction accordingly. Dorigo is now working on a swarm of
robots that could operate in a human environment. “It is called
Swarmanoid and will have three different kinds of robots,” he
explains. Some robots will be able to crawl along like Swarm-bots,
others will be able to climb walls, and others still will be able to
fly, he says.

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