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Start into the nanoworld with an objective and articles

03.11.1998

The Competence Centre for Nanotechnology has been established as an association / PTB Braunschweig is the seat of the secretariat

The way for the technological future is paved by small things, by very small things. This has been recognized not only by research and economy but also by the political circles supporting the concerted departure into the nanoworld. Several so-called "competence centres" - supported over the next five years with 150 million DM - will concentrate the knowledge and know-how distributed over the whole country and help to reduce the time of development from the idea to the product. One of these competence centres - dealing with "ultraprecise surface finishing" - has been established on Monday as a registered association which is expected to comprise about 50 institutions from economy and research: members are both large groups of companies and small and medium-sized enterprises as well as university institutes and non-university research centres. The seat of the management and of the secretariat of this association will be the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt in Braunschweig which will be the hub of the whole business.

As nanotechnology is generally counted among the key technologies of the next millennium, the activities of the association now founded are supported by society as a whole: the exchange of information between all members is intended to "contribute to developing novel technologies and exploiting technological innovations" as the articles of association say. The narrow coupling between science and economy required for this purpose is reflected by the composition of the committee which comsists of five members:

  • Prof.Dr. Horst Kunzmann, Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig
  • Dr. Klaus-Friedrich Beckstette, Carl Zeiss Oberkochen
  • Prof. Frieder Bigl, Institut für Oberflächenmodifizierung e.V., Leipzig
  • Dr. Hans Lauth, Jenoptik, L.O.S. GmbH, Jena
  • Gunter Schneider, Schneider GmbH, Steffenberg.

The role nanotechnique plays in general and ultraprecise surface finishing in particular is corroborated quite well by the semiconductor industry: with each new chip generation, the technicians succeed in further reducing the dimensions of the elements for electronic circuits and in increasing the packing density on the chip surfaces the size of a fingernail. Thus everybody who has a computer reflecting the latest state of technology can already use a computer capacity accommodated in structures of 350 nanometers (one nanometer is one millionth millimeter) on the microprocessor. And the objectives for the development have already been defined: the "magic limit" of 100 nanometers has for a long time been envisaged by the experts.

But before this nanocosmos will be commonplace, some hurdles have to be cleared. Thus photolithography by which the circuit patterns are written on the silicon chip fails in these dimensions. For such small dimensions can be imaged by the lens systems at present available only in a slightly blurred way. The requirements to be met by the projecting optics increase: the surfaces of the mirror and lens systems used must be formed and smoothed to a quality which has not yet been achieved: "ultraprecision" is to be reached.

Surfaces which are finished with ultraprecision are not, however, a fundamental prerequisite solely for semiconductor technology. In optical telecommunication and in space technology, too, it will be expected from surfaces that they are finished exact to the nanometer. Which projects the competence centre founded will tackle will be decided in the next few months when the partners involved have outlined their ideas and submitted them to an independent group of experts appointed by the Federal Ministry of Research. The time schedule provides that the integrated projects in the field of nanotechnology take up their work next April. As it is the general objective of these projects to use, and profit from, the results, industry will be directly involved so that pure associations of researchers will remain the exception.