achieve practical devices based on nanoscale phenomena. At present, the best techniques to produce large numbers of nanoscale systems are self-assembly techniques, which are only likely to produce fairly regular structures with low information content. These simple structures contrast to the components found in today’s computers, which derive their capabilities from the great complexity that has been imposed by human designers. To achieve improvements over today’s systems, chemically or biologically assembled machines must combine the best features of top-down and bottom-up approaches. Integration at the nanoscale is inherently complex and must be approached stepwise, and solutions to these problems will require a sustained investment and long-term commitment.

Research investments in molecular electronics and quantum and molecular computing could be critical for realizing this goal of integration. Real breakthroughs require fully integrated systems capable of manipulating the molecules, efficiently reading the code, and allowing for parallelism and diversity. One strategy toward for achieving three-dimensional assembly and complex functionality is to use self-organizing ideas and mechanisms gleaned from biology. Efficient self-assembly mechanisms will lead to advances in numerous areas, including decreases in the size of instrumentation and the ability to integrate multiple sensing devices on a chip.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND INSTRUMENTATION

The committee echoes the recommendations made at the culmination of the Bioengineering Consortium symposium—namely, that one of the most important areas for investment is the development of instrumentation, computation, and facilities to support research at the nano-bio interface.1 The sophisticated and expensive equipment and facilities required for a multifaceted initiative such as the NNI can be shared among many investigators, and the specialized facilities can employ highly trained individuals to assist researchers in the optimum use of such equipment.

NSET has done an outstanding job of developing, supporting, and encouraging multiuser instrumentation and facilities. For example, DOE is proposing three new nanoscale science and technology centers. A “molecular foundry” is proposed for its Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that will focus on the connection of “soft” and “hard” materials, multicomponent functional assemblies, and multidisciplinary research. This facility is used in Box 4.6 to illustrate some of the features important to such centers. The Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory will concentrate on nanoelectronics and photonics, nanomechanics, complex materials, and the nano-biomicro interface. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences will focus on soft materials and complex nanophase materials. As another example, the national nanofabrication user network (NNUN) supported by NSF involves four primary sites and one secondary site at universities. The sites at Cornell, Penn State, and Stanford have personnel with biological expertise.2 The NNUN is accessible to academic and industrial researchers and is particularly useful to start-up companies, which will be able demonstrate proof-of-principle without major capital outlay.

However, most of the equipment in these user facilities is for traditional use. For instance, Stanford’s semiconductor wafer fabrication center was created for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) processes and developments. Materials that deviate from those used in CMOS technology cannot be used in the etchers, evaporators, and other equipment. Many of the interdisciplinary techniques researchers wish to utilize require nonstandard materials, so no user facilities are available for them. This issue must be addressed if NNUN is to truly serve the needs of researchers working at the interface between biology, chemistry, and materials science at the nanoscale. If it is to realize the research gains that it seeks, especially in the area of nanoscale studies of biological systems and the creation and characterization of nanoscale devices based on biological systems, NSET must encourage and support the development of multiuser facilities, particularly those that can tolerate the introduction of biological samples and saline solutions. This might be accomplished in partnership with the new National Institute of Bioimaging and Bioengineering, part of NIH.

In addition to supporting large user facilities, NNI must invest heavily in new instrument development if

1  

NIH, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: Shaping Biomedical Research, Bioengineering Consortium (BECON) Conference Center, June 25-26, 2000.

2  

The other primary site is at the University of California, Santa Barbara, while the secondary site is at Howard University.



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