Nanoelectronics Is Improving Many Aspects Of Our Lives

The area of consumer electronics has seen a deep impact from nanotechnology or one might call it nanoelectronics. Smaller and faster devices enabled by nanoscale features are made viable by improvements in material properties and processing techs. Super-hydrophobic coatings add to the water-resistant properties of phones.

Carbon nanotube-based electronics which are resistant to radiation have been operated on space missions. Quantum dots are used in flat-screen televisions. However, the most exciting advances in nanoelectronics are still under development! Nanotechnology will enable new ways to store and manipulate data, and flexible electronic equipment will be commonplace.

Encouraging Cooperation to Advance Semiconductor Science and Technology

Continuing to shrink digital devices’ dimensions is essential to further increase chip speed, decrease device switching energy, improve system performance, and reduce production cost per bit. However, because the critical elements of apparatus approach atomic dimensions, quantum tunneling and other quantum impacts degrade and eventually prohibit the operations of traditional semiconductor devices, and new conceptual solutions are essential.

In recognition of these limitations, the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) has a longstanding Memorandum of Understanding to foster collaboration in education and research projects that could advance knowledge in the area of semiconductor science and technology and improve the field’s use for the benefit of the market, the Nation, and society. By way of instance, in 2011, the SRC’s and the NSF Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI) supported the solicitation of nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond (NEB).

The objective of NEB was to explore innovative research concepts in nanoelectronics. This research involved various research avenues from novel materials, chemistry, and logic devices; to systems architectures, circuit designs, and algorithms; to new paradigms for computation, sensing, and processing of data. NSF and NRI combinedly supported 12 four-year grants to interdisciplinary teams of researchers totaling $20 million.

Allowing Moore’s Law to Keep for Several Years to Come

Nantero, one of Electronic Engineering Times’ 10 top startups to see in 2013, has formed a carbon nanotube-based memory, NRAM. Financed in part by Air Force Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer awards, Nantero’s NRAM changes in picoseconds is permanently nonvolatile, takes very little energy, and is scalable down to only a few nanometers in size.

This nanoelectronics technology facilitates the “instant-on” computers, faster servers, and data centers with much less power. By way of instance, mobile devices could operate faster with longer battery life. Additionally, the same carbon nanotube material and production processes used for NRAM may be used for next-generation interconnects and transistors, allowing Moore’s Law to continue for several years to come.

Stretching, Folding, Twisting, and Not Damaging Electronics

Semiconductor Nanomembranes (NMs) are single-crystal constructions with thicknesses of less than a few hundred nanometers and with minimal lateral dimensions at least 2 orders of magnitude bigger than the consistency. Silicon nanomembranes (SiNM) have multiple properties that are different from those of bulk silicon.

They’re flexible, conformal, transparent, trainable, transferable, bondable, stackable, and patternable. Advanced demonstration apparatus using NMs are reported, perhaps most notably in the region of flexible and stretchable electronics. NMs of silicon or germanium mounted on rubber or plastic substrates allow bending, stretching, twisting, folding, and other demanding modes of deformation without causing fatigue or damage in the materials.

During the Department of Defense Multidisciplinary Research Program of the University Research Initiative investments, the US Government has significantly boosted actions in this frontier of materials nanotechnology. This activity is encouraging leading researchers such as Ray Chen (UT Austin), Max Lagally and Jack Ma (UWisconsin), Hank Smith (MIT), and John Rogers (UIUC).

Efficient Electronic Assemblies without Using Toxic Materials

Since the arrival of current electronics, lead has been the essential solder material because of the low melting temperature. However, due to a global effort to phase out hazardous materials in electronic equipment, there’s currently an urgent requirement for lead-free solder. The typical lead-free replacement, a mix of silver, tin, and copper, has several difficulties.

It needs high processing temperatures, which drive prices up. The high tin content may result in tin whiskers that may result in short circuits, and fractures are common in challenging environments. Because of this, Defense-wide Manufacturing Science & Technology pioneered a program in the region of “Solder-Free Electronics.”

The idea was to create a substance and/or accompanying procedure to fabricate electronic systems that would obviate industrial lead-free solders’ needs and remove their accompanying problems. Nanoparticle alloys have an inherently reduced fusing and melting temperature in comparison to bulk materials.

By applying this effect, Dr. Alfred Zinn of Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center managed to develop a nanoparticle aluminum suspension, CuantumFuse™, which may replace solder bonding at a normal electronics assembly procedure.

Copper was selected because it is already used throughout the electronics sector, is economical (1/4th the price of tin; 1/100th the expense of silver, and 1/10,000in the price of gold), abundant, and contains ten times the thermal and electrical conductivity of commercial tin-based solder, which may lead to more efficient electronic assemblies.

How Nanotechnology Enables Wearable Electronics

(Nanowerk Spotlight) Smartwatches, smart clothes, fitness trackers, data gloves, smart medical attachments, — the market for wearable electronic equipment is rapidly evolving beyond healthcare, fitness, and wellness into infotainment and industrial and commercial applications.

Wearable electronics include several areas: actuators, sensors, electronics, and electricity supply or generation. Whereas the first generation consisted mainly of removable components, the next generation moves towards textile-embedded actuators, sensors, and curative solutions.

Among the key challenges is the necessity to combine unique properties such as flexibility, user comfort, and the device’s ability to be miniaturized and stylish. To do so, researchers are using unique materials such as carbon nanotubes, polymers, graphene, and dielectric composites, and elastomers. These are tailored to specific applications based on their distinct characteristic behaviors upon various stimuli.

A review article in Advanced Materials (“Significance Of Nanomaterials in Wearables: A Review on Wearable Actuators and Sensors”) investigates nanomaterials’ participation in the business of wearables with a focus on sensors and actuators. The authors discuss nanomaterials‘ present applications in this area and touch upon the various materials and methods being used.

Wearable Actuators

Actuators respond to an electrical signal or stimuli generated from a processing device or a signal directly fetched from a sensor. Such stimuli can be manufactured by mechanical, thermal, chemical, or magnetic means, whereas the responses could lead to structural deformations, force or movement, heating, sound, or even chemical release.

The evolution of e-textiles and smart fabrics has widened the applications of wearable actuators. This development has heating elements embedded in nanocomposite-based therapeutic devices; wearables, artificial muscles, muscular actuators; rehabilitation apparatus; and wearable drug delivery methods.

To be integrated into wearable and flexible electronics, the choice of material is quite important. According to their applications, they ought to have sufficient strength, structural rigidity, and flexibility and should be able to give an adequate quantity of actuating force. Additionally, they ought to have comfort and biocompatibility, mostly for drug delivery systems and therapeutic systems.

Traditional transducer materials such as piezoelectric materials, magnetostrictive materials, and quantum tunneling composites are extremely tough to incorporate into flexible materials because of their low flexibility. This has led to exploring different material groups and developing novel nanocomposites and other materials such as electroactive polymers, metal nanoparticles, ionic liquids, conductive polymers, and carbon nanotubes graphite, and shape memory alloys.

Experts have followed different manufacturing processes with this range of materials and their applications, including electrospinning, spray coating, weaving, knitting, and alternative casting.

Wearable Sensors

Nanomaterial sensors sense an outside stimulus and convert it into a measurable signal, which could later be moved to a processing device or a tracking device.

The appearance of sensors in our everyday life has improved human’s living quality. Take a modern smartphone, a perfect example of nanoelectronics: it may precisely fix, aggregate, and display users’ position and orientation by incorporating many sensors like an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometers, and magnetometer in concert.

But wearable sensors are likely to be the most practicable and potential applications soon. Wearable devices equipped with a collection of simplified sensors like temperature, strain sensors for posture and body motion, biosensors for disease monitoring, and multifunctional sensors for voice and facial expression detection may feed real-time information to a processing and monitoring central system.

Wearable sensors need to be flexible and light-weight, exhibit superior mechanical and thermal performances to stop them from being ruined, and need low prices.

The low flexibility and consistency of conventional sensor systems based on rigid metal and semiconductor materials make them inappropriate for wearable sensors. Wearable sensors need innovative material, and construction design approaches to have high flexibility, stretchability, sensitivity, and a wide sensing range.

This made researchers explore novel nanocomposites and nanomaterials for wearable sensors. The option of nanomaterials for wearable sensors essentially considers processing technologies, material properties, and the possibility of large-scale production. Mainly, 1D nanomaterials and nanocomposites such as metallic nanowires and nanofibers are being extensively used.

To obtain large scale stretchability of Nanomaterials, aside from using all stretchable materials, many researchers have adopted advanced structural design approaches to enhance system-level deformation behavior, such as horseshoe shapes, wavy structures, fractal structures or filamentary serpentine, and porous structures such as sponges and foams.

Nanomaterial-based sensors are prepared by integrating nanomaterials into flexible or elastic substrates like a fiber, fabric, or polymer matrix. Experts predominantly utilize spray coating, spin coating, drop-casting, dip coating, layer-by-layer assembly, vacuum filtration, and direct printing or writing to build wearable nanomaterial-based sensors techniques.

Researchers have already shown various innovative wearable sensors with superior performance by synthesizing nanomaterials and nanocomposites integrating with existing nanomaterials: strain/motion sensors, temperature sensors; multifunctional sensors; and pressure sensors.

These nanoelectronics wearable sensors can be added on or embedded in clothing or attached to portions of the body like the wrist, finger, arm, throat, chest, and leg. Others could be embedded in wearing accessories such as earrings, gloves, brooches, watches, necklaces, etc.

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