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Nano chat: It seems Nanotechnology might one day help revolutionise global communications.

Tuesday 1 June 2010
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Our Future Planet gets down to the nitty gritty.

Global communications are driven by science. From the days of the earliest telephone, to telegraph wires or the first mobile, scientific innovation more than anything else drives the planetary conversation.




And that conversation controls a whole lot of what we do. Wars are begun, or avoided, or lost and fought on the ability to talk things through. Lifespan and quality of living for billions depends on how they are taught.

That in turn depends on access to the internet, teaching aids, and at the most basic level language abilities and exposure to foreign language and culture.

So it’s at our peril that we ignore just how vital tomorrow’s science will be to solving the sustainability issues facing us. Fortunately researchers are forever beavering away behind the scenes to find scope for implementing the most revolutionary ideas.

Nanonnovation

For a start, in the Faculty of Science at The University of New South Wales in Sydney, researchers reckon they may have nailed a way to enter a whole new world of computer power. That means a new insight into how the internet might drag communications into its next evolution. Or how telecommunications might be run by legions of self automated machines.  

The researchers have made, ‘The world’s smallest precision built transistor - a ‘quantum dot’ of just seven atoms in a single silicon crystal. Despite its incredibly tiny size - a mere four billionths of a metre long - the quantum dot is a functioning electronic device, the world’s first created deliberately by placing individual atoms.’

That’s all very well, but what does it mean? The point is that ‘it can be used to regulate and control electrical current flow like a commercial transistor, but it represents a key step into a new age of atomic scale miniaturisation and super fast, super powerful computers.’

‘The team’s primary goal is to create a quantum computer in silicon - an area where Australia has a unique collection of researchers and an international lead. This new device demonstrates that the technologies to enable fabrication and measurement at the atomic scale have begun to arrive.’

According to the scientists, ‘At present, the length of a commercial transistor gate, which allows the transistor to act as an amplifier or switch for an electrical current, is about 40 nanometres (billionths of a metre). The CQCT team is now making devices with features about 10 times smaller at 4 nanometres.’

The theory is that everything to do with communications, like mobile phones, uses transistors. So the smaller, more efficient and the faster they get, the quicker, cheaper and more powerful communication tools floating down to individuals will eventually become.

There’s more fascinating work going on at Tel Aviv University’s School of Electrical Engineering. According to ‘American Friends of Tel Aviv University’ (AFTAU), an academic group encouraging links and higher education, ‘a new nano based technology that can make computers and the Internet hundreds of times faster, a communications technology ‘enabler’, may be in use only five or ten years in the future.’

It’s been developed by Dr. Koby Scheuer. He’s ‘developed a new plastic based technology for the nanophotonics market, which manufactures optical devices and components.’

‘His plastic based ‘filter’ is made from nanometre sized grooves embedded into the plastic. When used in fibre optics cable switches, this new device will make our communication devices smaller, more flexible and more powerful.’

“Once Americans have a fiber optics cable coming into every home, all communication will go through it, telephone, cable TV, the Internet. But to avoid bottlenecks of information, we need to separate the information coming through into different channels,” AFTAU quotes Scheuer.

“Our polymeric devices can do that in the optical domain, at a speed, quality and cost that the semi conductor industry can't even imagine.”

“Right now, we could transmit all of the written text of the world though a single fiber in a fiber optics cable in just a few seconds,” the AFTAU quote continues. “But in order to handle these massive amounts of communication data, we need filters to make sense of the incoming information. Ours uses a plastic based switch, replacing hard to fabricate and expensive semi conductors.”

These are pretty mind boggling technologies, but coming back to the real world there is always going to be a sizeable gap between the cutting edge of science and the real world application in your living room.

Nanotrends

Other elements of communications, like media storage, are benefiting from nanotrends. On May 14, Hitachi Maxell and Tokyo Institute of Technology announced nanoengineering set to radically alter what can be stored on a single tape.

‘Today, the usage of the data storage tape has expanded for the development of the information technology society, the electric archive in the public libraries and the public records offices, and the long term storage of business writing,’ explains Maxwells news service.

‘Especially, the eco friendly storage system, the so called “green storage”, that lowers power consumption and considers the environment, is [being] demanded recently.’

It appears ‘super high density nanometer sized magnetic thin film was achieved, by an open innovation by the combination of Maxell’s tape medium design/evaluation technologies and the new thin film formation method, “Facing Targets Sputtering method”.

This all sounds a bit otherworldly, but it ‘allows us to make the large capacity magnetic tape by low noise laminated soft magnetic underlayers and the magnetic recording film with less 10 nm diameter crystal grains.’

Basically, this ‘latest technology is a future technology’. It ‘enables over 50 TB capacity per a standard tape cartridge, which equals 33 times larger than a capacity of the latest LTO Ultrium 5 data cartridge.’

So in other words, not only might we talk, write up our discussions and email them more quickly than ever before, we might also save previously untold volumes of data with ease.

Deployed worldwide, there might really be a sea change coming on in what we can talk about, and how easily we do it. And the better, faster and more often we communicate, the more we can achieve. Let’s hope it all comes sooner rather than later.

What are your views?  Not sure? Read the resources below for more information. Add your comment below. We welcome your thoughts and proposals. Not a Planetary Citizen? Sign up  to Our Future Planet today!

Read more articles with reference to Science and Technology  or Communications

Resources:

Nano-Communications: A New field? An Exploration into a Carbon Nanotube Communication Network
Nano Communication Networks Journal (Elsevier) 
Nanorobot Communication Techniques- A Comprehensive Tutorial 
European Commission - Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology 
Applying the Precautionary Principle to Nanotechnology 
Nokia Technology Insight Series -  Nanoscience and the Mobile Device

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