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Honey, They Shrunk My Chips!

by Kenneth Lyen

The Dow Jones News today confirmed that "Investors don't need an electron microscope to find nanotechnology stocks."

Nanotechnology, is science at the atomic scale. Researchers have already shrunk semiconductors to the size of 90 nanometers, and the trend continues to shrink. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or about one millionth the size of a pin head.

We are living in exciting times. At the beginning of the 20th century, science had just discovered atomic physics. But we were at a loss what to do with this discovery, except building atomic bombs and nuclear reactors. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are standing at the gateway of harnessing the power of the infinitesimally small.

It is predicted that semiconductor chips will shrink to a 10 nanometer range, where there will only be a few atoms available for insulation. This is said to be the end of the miniscule journey. But it is about 15 years further down the road, and one can jump that tiny hurdle when the time comes.

In the area of storage, computer hard drives use heads that read and write data some 12 nanometers away from the spinning disc. And the magnetic layer on the spinning disc is only 10-20 nanometers thick, with a lubricant coating of 5 nanometers. Further advances in data storage, like IBM’s Millipede project, hope to store trillion bits of data per square inch, the equivalent of 25 DVDs on the surface of a postage stamp. One advantage of packing information so densely is that it withstands shock better. Seagate claims that their new one-inch hard drive can be thrown against the wall and still run perfectly. Perfect for a game of quidditch?

In the field of printers, nanotechnology is already making ink jet printers that can deliver ink droplets as small as 10 nanometers. This improves the quality of printing.

In future, nanotechnology will merge with biotechnology, Printing out new skin for burns victims or printing patches of beating animal heart cells are no longer in the realm of science fiction.

Indeed nanotechnology promises to bear that heavy responsibility of producing exciting new breakthrough products on their tiny shoulders. Yes, we are discovering that small is beautiful. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong: "One nanostep for technology, one giant leap for mankind!"

Let’s quickly rush out to buy those nanotechnology stocks. "Honey, have you seen my checkbook?"