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Manhattan Bridge In Sunset

Breaking barriers: The hype

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.

Why I do what I do

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!

The hype

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.

The purple arrow shows how Nan­otube Elec­tron­ics moved from 2005 to 2017 in Gart­ner­’s hype curve for emer­ging tech­no­lo­gies.

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.

Vari­ations of car­bon forms.

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!

Next article

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.

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