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This is the first article in a series of three in which Smoltek founder and strategic advisor Shafiq Kabir share his personal thoughts on nanotechnology opportunities. This introductory article addresses the hype surrounding nanotechnology in general and carbon nanotechnology in particular.
While I was carrying out my research studies, I had a reverie, a dream to take my research findings on nanomaterials beyond scientific articles for greater technological, industrial and societal benefits. I was fortunate enough to pursue in the path of bringing my dream into reality. After over a decade of journey in the process of bringing the research innovation closer to the semiconductor industry, the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming visible and widening day by day. Hence as a nanotech entrepreneur I thought of sharing my holistic view of technology and society, perspectives and processes of chasing my dreams coming true.
Back in 2005, the final days of my PhD studies, a moment of combined feelings of shivering excitement and nervousness. These are the days when one experience intense conglomerations of thrust of writing up thesis chapters, finishing courses, submitting various manuscripts for scientific articles, thoughts bouncing back & forth on walking towards an unknown future, etc. Apparently, such complexity of the situation was not enough for my adrenaline rush, I ended up starting a company named Smoltek. A baby step to pursue my dream without knowing the uncertainty, hurdles and roller coaster experience that may come with it. And of course, to spice up the situation, why not start the company at the time when the ‘hype’ of ‘carbon nanotechnology’ is at its pick!
When it comes for technology hype, Gartner has a very good way of presenting high level innovation trend and how a technology may mature over time to enter into the market place and may phase out eventually as shown in the Hype Cycle below.
As can be seen, in the year 2005 the position of Carbon nanotube is described as a hype material to be used in the industry. Over the period of past decade, tremendous attraction on carbon nanostructures both in the academia and in the industry lead to 10000+ patents and 10000+ scientific articles BUT essentially no significant high volume industrial adoption! Hence, evidently justifying a ‘hype’ syndrome.
Therefore one may wonder why carbon nanostructures have attracted such an enormous attention and why still a big push to make it happening into the industry.
Carbon nanomaterials may come in versatile forms and formats with many different properties.
In brief, this is what made the materials so attractive. Over the decades, researchers around the world have demonstrated many usefulness and applications of the materials through scientific articles and invention disclosures. A few fundamental properties that have drawn the main attention are nanosize, extreme light weight, stronger than Kevlar, better thermal/electrical conductor than copper, hydrophilic/hydrophobic, high aspect ratio structures, bottom up chemistry controlled growth of nanostructures etc … and the list of interesting properties may simply continue.
The next obvious question may be why there is no major adoption to the semiconductor industry of such wonder material? Well, there can be very many opinions but one obvious reason was the absence of a breakthrough technology that could enable the possibility of integrating such wonder materials into mainframe semiconductor industry (the industry that has enabled our digital world as of today!).
The good news is: The scenario is changing fast!
Very limited adaptation of carbon nanomaterials in industrial applications have been witnessed over the past decades e.g. as bulk materials for R&D, in composites, surface coatings, etc. However, for the semiconductor industry, the penetration has not been recognized until today. Nantero perhaps the forerunner in breaking the barrier to enter into the semiconductor industry through a recently announced licencing deal for manufacturing NRAM memory chips.
Smoltek, is aggressively working on bringing its proprietary packaging platform suitable for the upcoming 2.5D and 3D heterogeneous integration SiP/SoC packaging with the ability to shrink the 3D packaging dimension with additional functionality such as embedded capacitor/energy storing devices.
Such an industrial marriage between traditional technology, nanotechnology & nanomaterials and cohabitations is as usual not without a fight. There has been a lot of if’s & but’s over the decades, a lot of intellectual, scientific and practicality discussions, a lot of barriers to overcome but still apparently settling at the end.
The nanotech entrepreneurs are persistently innovating to break the barriers one after another and perhaps a lot more to break BUT creating the path to impact!
In the next article of this series, I will make an attempt to dive into ‘the reality’ with respect to my view as a nanotech entrepreneur and how the reality is aiding positively for nanotech startups in breaking the barriers to get into the real world.