Microelectronics and Nanotechnology
Microelectronics and nanotechnology are closely related fields that investigate the properties—electrical and others—of the very small. Although their names suggest the difference in scale between a micron (a millionth of a meter) and a nanometer (a billionth of a meter), in fact a particular feature can as easily be described as .08 microns or 80 nanometers long. The word nanotechnology was first used in 1974, but by then scientists had long been working with entities smaller than a nanometer, including films just one molecule thick.
Long before there were powerful microscopes to see phenomena at the atomic and molecular level, Irving Langmuir and Katharine Blodgett worked at the nanometer scale, studying films just one molecule thick.
At the dawn of the age of microelectronics, N. Bruce Hannay used innovative methods to perform the chemical tasks of making “pure” semiconductors and analyzing them for trace impurities.
The age of microelectronics had hardly gotten started when Richard Feynman predicted the emergence of nanotechnology, the understanding and manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular scale.
Through technical innovations and business savvy, chemist and entrepreneur Gordon Moore helped firmly establish the silicon-based microelectronics industry in California’s Silicon Valley. He cofounded Intel Corporation in 1968.
When we think of materials that conduct electricity, we usually think of metals, not of synthetic polymers, such as plastics. But in the 1970s, Alan MacDiarmid, Alan Heeger, and Hideki Shirakawa developed special “conductive polymers.” Their work, for which they received the Nobel Prize in chemistry, led to significant applications in microelectronics.
With their discovery of buckyballs in 1985, Richard Smalley, Robert Curl, and Harold Kroto furthered progress to the long-held objective of molecular-scale electronics and other nanotechnologies.
While a scientist at Dow Chemical, Donald Tomalia created special tree-like polymers called dendrimers that have numerous existing and potential applications, especially in biomedicine.
Elsa Reichmanis devised polymers that let manufacturers create ever-smaller parts in computer chips, making each chip more powerful. She also participates in research on newer, cutting-edge materials for electronics.