• Readers
  • Authors
  • Partners
  • Students
  • Libraries
  • Advertising
  • Contacts
  • Language: Русская версия
Section: Physics
Nanotechnologies: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Nanotechnologies: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Today the word “nanotechnology” has become a catch phrase for a broad range of activities all sharing a common feature, namely, ultra small linear dimensions of objects whose size does not exceed a hundred nanometers. If interpreted this way, nanotechnologies have been in use since the early times. For example, when making cheese, protein ferments extracted from the Ruminantia abomasum were used. Stained glass of the medieval cathedrals owes its bright colors to ultradisperse metal particles dozens of nanometers in size formed when metal compounds were added to the melting glass. However, it was only about ten years ago or less that the development and application of nanotechnologies started. For this reason, without any hesitation nanotechnologies can be called the “technologies of the 3rd millennium”.

Since there is no unanimous opinion as to what nanotechnologies present as a field of activity, before describing them in detail it is necessary to agree on the definitions of some basic terms in the given field.

The following broad definition of nanotechnologies belongs to the head of the Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute, a corresponding member of RAS A. G. Zabrodsky: “A certain object can be considered nanotechnological if at least one of its dimensions lies within the range from 1 to 100 nm, with it being essential for the functions of the given device”.

The narrow definition to the term can be given in accordance with the dialectical law of quantity changing to quality. According to it, nanoobjects must have fundamentally new qualities compared with the corresponding objects produced from voluminous materials. All the rest of the objects with a magic prefix nano- now fall in between these two extreme definitions.

With such a range of opinions, it is not surprising that in different fields of nanoscience, nanoobjects are defined with more precision and clarity. If to take nanoelectronic devices, it is first of all necessary to make use of the quantum properties of nanostructures. Second, their production should rely on implementation of self-organization effects according to the “bottom-up” paradigm on the size scale (Alferov Zh. I. et al., 2003).

The latter is true for nanobiotechnologies too. According to the definition given by Academician R. V. Petrov (RAS), nanobiotechnological devices present fundamentally new biological structures constructed from (synthetic or gene engineered) naturally or artificially reproduced nanostructures of living objects representing a variety of biological types. They are developed on the basis of the ability to recognition, self-construction and amplification (multiplication) inherent in biological systems.

Initiatives of the RF government on developing nanotechnologies:
Federal Target Program Priority Directions in R&D in Science and Technology in Russia in 2007—2012
Federal Target Program Development of Infrastructure for Nanoindustry in the Russian Federation in 2008—2010
Federal Law N139 On the Russian Nanotechnology Corporation adopted on July 19, 2007
RAS Initiatives:
Commission for Nanotechnologies (RAS) was established according to the resolution N163 of the Presidium (RAS) adopted on June 26, 2007
The Department of Information and Nanotechnologies was created within RAS in December 2008


It is well-known that nanotechnologies are not a recent invention, however it is their development in the last several years that qualifies as a “nanoboom.” The year 2000 can be considered as its reference point, because it was then that the USA president Bill Clinton publicized his “national nanoinitiative” when visiting the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). It was later approved by the Congress as a new state program with an annual budget of nearly $ 0.5 billion.

In 2003, the next president of the USA George W. Bush signed a law on research and development in nanotechnologies in the USA. The primary research goals were formulated as follows: the development of a new generation of compact information storage devices, the development of materials with strength higher than that of steel as well as the development of fundamentally different means of delivering medicines to the sick organs of the human body.

The demonstration of American achievements in the new and promising technological field has impacted the decisions of the governments of Western European countries as well as the governments of Japan, China and some other countries to adopt programs similar to that adopted in the USA. Nanotechnologies have become one of the priority directions for the government and received generous financial support. An unprecedented interest in this field has been largely triggered by business because according to preliminary assessments within the next decade the size of the international market of nanotechnologies can reach the level of $1 trillion a year, with the largest share of it taken by nanomaterials and nanoelectronic devices.

It is expected that a lion’s share in the future international market of nanotechnologies will be taken by materials with fundamentally new characteristics and electronic devices

To Russia, the nanoboom came later, in 2006, and was to a certain extent different from that in the USA. First of all, the government of the Russian Federation determined the leading organization for the development of the nanoindustry and appointed the Russian Research Center—Kurchatov Institute (Moscow) to head the activities in this field. Two federal target programs on the development of nanotechnologies in Russia have been developed as well on the initiative of the government. Finally, the federal law On the Russian Nanotechnology Corporation was adopted in 2007 and the state corporation Rosnanotech (now Rosnano) was established.

The Russian Academy of Sciences is acting within the framework of the first program. A total of 130 billion rubles have been allocated for the realization of this program, but only a third of this sum will be spent on fundamental and applied research in the priority research direction The industry of nanosystems and materials.

Sorption filters AquaVallis present one of the pioneering works of the Siberian nanotechnologists. The filtration material consists of polymeric microfibers coated with nanofiber according to a special technology. The filter AquaVallis depends for its operation on a combination of two purification mechanisms, filtration and adsorption.
Particles the size of which does not exceed the size of pores in the material (1 mkm) are filtered from water. Smaller size impurities are removed through absorption in nanofibers. In aqueous media, nanofibers create a high positive zeta-potential which allows retaining negatively charged microparticles, including the microorganisms with the size smaller than that of pores in the material.
Unlike the traditional decontamination techniques, AquaVallis filter removes thermo- and chlorine resistant bacteria and viruses. These filters guarantee complete microbiological safety of drinking water, thus are first of all intended to be used in kindergartens, schools, orphanages, hospitals and at children’s camp sites.
The AquaVallis nanofilter plant, which is a joint construction project with Slovenia, is to run at full capacity in 2009

At present, the Academy of Sciences is not planning to participate in either the second program with the budget of 30 billion rubles or the Rosnano projects, the financial resources of which in the amount of 130 billion rubles will be aimed at the adoption of the most perspective nanotechnologies the return from which can be expected in the nearest future. According to A. Chubais, the head of the state corporation Rosnano, the key goal of the corporation is to reach the production level of 1 trillion rubles by 2015, proportionate to that of the energy companies established during the reform of the Russian State Stock Company Unified Energy Systems (UES).

A special commission on nanotechnologies was established to oversee the research studies in nanotechnologies, which was working very actively during the summer 2007. As a result, the government of the Russian Federation approved amendments to the RAS articles of association with the help of which in the beginning of 2008 a new structural division was established in the Academy of Sciences, the Department of Information and Nanotechnologies. The member of RAS E. P. Velikhov, president of the Kurchatov Research Center and secretary of the Public Chamber of Russia, was appointed as its head, while the Nobel Prize winner, a member of RAS Zh. I. Alferov was appointed as its supervisor.

Russia’s power will grow through Siberia

Data on the regional distribution of organizations participating in the Federal Target Program can serve as an adequate indicator of the activity academic institutions demonstrate in the field of nanotechnologies, with both the data on the number of applications and a relative number of won lots being indicative of their current activity.

Formally, the data for the Siberian region look quite fair, particularly if compared with those for the Ural and Southern federal districts. However, if the number of submitted applications is compared, the situation does not seem so favorable any more: in the Central federal district the number of applications reached 3,000, while in the Siberian federal district their number is only 600, i. e. one-fifth.

If the actual financing, i. e., the system of contracts, is analyzed, then the difference becomes even more noticeable. The investment in the Central district reached 7 billion rubles, while in the Siberian district it was 700 million rubles, i. e., one-tenth. One of the major reasons for such a state of affairs is a considerable difference in off-budget financing, 4 billion rubles compared to 400 million Rubles.

One of the most significant factors that can ensure successful program realization is the existence of specific enterprises and organizations able to support the submitted applications financially. As far as can be judged from the available figures, there are too few such enterprises in Siberia. Nevertheless, there are some grounds for optimism as well: for example, there was no problem finding sponsors for the 15th International Symposium “Nanostructures: Physics and Technology” organized by the Nobel Prize winners Zh. I. Alferov and L. Esaki. It was sponsored by the largest international and several Russian companies successfully operating in the field of nanotechnologies.

At Novosibirsk Nanostructures joint research center of ISP SB RAS, nanostructures and nanoobjects are tested at the level of atomic resolution by means of high resolution transmission electron microscopy

The scope of works in the field of nanotechnologies in the RAS Siberian Branch looks impressive. Let’s consider a number of research projects, the success of which is evidenced by their support within the framework of the Federal Target Program.

The first classical work which became a genuine breakthrough in the new field devoted to the detonation diamond synthesis was completed at the Institute of Hydrodynamics (Novosibirsk, SB RAS). It was shown for the first time that the formation of ultradisperse diamonds takes place not in the detonation wave as was considered before. Actually, this wave only creates a reaction mixture (plasma) from which nanodiamonds are then formed in the course of a chemical reactions.

At Novosibirsk Nanostructures joint research center (Institute of Semiconductor Physics of SB RAS), high density nanostructures are designed by electron, probe and ion lithography, which can be used when fabricating nanoelectronic elements

Next, works on developing nanodisperse powders, nanofibers, different nanomaterials, including carbon and molecular containers are particularly noteworthy. For example, the research studies devoted to fabricating a new filtering nanomaterial AquaVallis carried out at the Institute of Strength Physics and Material Science SB RAS at Tomsk Scientific Center were brought to the stage of practical realization.

Researchers from the Institute of Carbohydrates Reprocessing at Omsk Scientific Center have achieved a lot of success in developing new catalytic nanomaterials for purification and filtration of technogenic gases and liquids as well as sorbing agents for extraction of noble and nonferrous metals.

Novosibirsk Nanostructures joint research center established in 2003 at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics SB RAS, providing complex metrological, diagnostic and technological support for research studies in nanotechnologies, nanomaterials and nanoelectronics, deserves special notice. The work of this center has been supported by a grant from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation.

For war and peace

At the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS) the progress of nanotechnologies is based on molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) equipments. Developed almost 40 ears ago, this technology is based on layering different materials on flat substrate under conditions of ultrahigh-vacuum (UHV). At present, the market for MBE equipment producers is quite well developed, with the leading positions held by the French company RIBER and American company VECCO. However, such equipment can cost as much as 1—2 million euros, for which reason already in the end of the 1970s the development of MBE facilities was initiated at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS) by the member of the Russian Academy of Sciences A. V. Rzhanov.

Based on the HgCdTe heterostructures grown by MBE, a number of devices for the defense industry have been developed, including image tracking and position finding systems, as well as civil production devices. The Ministry of Education and Science has supported the research in the latter field with a state contract due to the fact that the joint stock company Russian Railways has guaranteed sales for optoelectronic systems which allow controlling heat emission of the rolling stock boxes for up to 1.5 billion rubles.

Quantum Hall effect attests to a high quality of semiconductor epitaxial HgCdTe (mercury—cadmium—tellurium) nanostructures grown at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics. The phenomenon for the discovery of which two Nobel Prizes were awarded has by now become a common demonstration in university lecture halls.
The essence of the effect is that at low temperatures in strong magnetic fields a semiconductor magnetic resistivity measured perpendicular to the current flow changes in steps. It is proved by the presence of two-dimensional degenerate electron gas in the structure in which the mobility of electrons perpendicular to the surface is significantly limited due to the thinness of the layers.
Since the value of quantum Hall resistance does not depend on the type of material, it is used as a resistance standard

Fabrication of epitaxial semiconductor structures for high-frequency field-effect transistors can be considered as a great success of a research team from the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS). In cooperation with the Novosibirsk enterprise Oktava and Tomsk enterprise Micran, they have created amplifiers of 6W powers at frequency 10 GHz- phase-locked arrays of aerials, at present the best device in its category. Since one unit incorporates several thousand amplifying paths, their size and characteristics determine how small and effective such devices can be.

The method of molecular-beam epitaxy allowing separate atomic layers from different materials to grow on the surface of semiconductor substrate presents one of the technical bases for nanoelectronics

Another device the institute takes pride in is a vertical—resonator laser, which makes use of semiconductor nanostructures. It is the smallest source of coherent emission in the world. The laser has been developed in cooperation with a team of researchers from St. Petersburg and Germany, but the nanostructures themselves and the technology of their production were developed at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics.

The epitaxial HgCdTe structures grown at the ISP (SB RAS) have been already used in tracking and position finding systems developed for the military as well as the devices developed for the civil industry

Some of the parameters of nanostructures with complex organization, incorporating hundreds of thinnest layers with quantum wells and quantum dots used in lasers, have no analogy in the world. Their response time reaches tens of gigabytes per second, owing to which it is possible to reach an unbelievably high speed of data transfer of a terabit per second (1T bit = 1012 bit) on matrix elements.

Such ultra-high speed devices as light-emitting diode operating in a single photon emission regime is an outstanding achievement in nanotechnology that can result in a revolution in optical information systems

It has become a true revolution in inter-chip and inter-plane compounds which has a direct relation to ensuring efficiency and compactness of computing systems. Ultra-fast semiconductor lasers with vertical resonators can be used both in quantum cryptography and precision spectroscopy; in addition, they can be used as a standard measure of optical power.

Few molecules

Semiconductor nanostructures can find almost unlimited practical use in high technologies. For example, an original nanoelectronic device for biological applications developed at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS) presents a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) MOS-nanotransistor based on metal-SOI structure with the gate length of tens of nanometers.

The sensitivity of organic molecules sensor device is assessed at 10 molecules per 10 mm3 of solution, opening new fields of its use in biology and medicine 

According to preliminary calculations, single charges can be registered on transistor surface, making it possible to use this device as organic molecules counter.The development of this technology has been also supported by a state contract.

In collaboration with the Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine (SB RAS), the investigations aimed at the uses of micro- and nanochannel wafers fabricated from monocrystalline silicon to register large organic molecules and filter ultradisperse biological molecules and nanoparticles have been conducted.

Micro- and nanochannel wafers from monocrystalline silicon can be used to register large organic and filter ultradisperse biological molecules and nanoparticles

For microchannel wafers, it has been demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to record the hybridization (bonding) reaction of oligonucleotide probe marks—DNA fragments deposited in the wafer’s channels beforehand– with a complimentary DNA fragments. It is important to notice that all pieces of equipment used in these studies, including Fourier-IR-spectrometer and IR-microscope, have been also developed at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS).

All the standards in nanotechnologies should be substituted for the quantum ones. Electric charge standard can be created on the basis of single-electron effects in nanostructures, while nanometer calibration standard on the basis of monoatomic steps on silicon surface

A DNA sequencing device, still another unique joint project, is at its development stage. It is expected that it will be possible to analyze the whole human genome by means of such devices for several thousand dollars in the matter of several days, while at present it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and takes several months.

Such devices require membranes with precisely calibrated holes in the range from 1 to 70 nm, depending on a sequencing method. At the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS) by the use of high resolution electron lithography, they have already been able to fabricate two-dimensional systems of holes, reaching the size of 13 nm. For an electronic chip of DNA sequenation based on a single nanopore, holes an order of magnitude smaller are required. Nonetheless, the already existing technology allows fabricating membranes with a two-dimensional system of holes from 35 to 75 nm in size necessary for DNA sequencing by the confocal microscopy.

Metrological support for nanotechnologies presents still another very important problem little known to the wider audience. Again, it means that all the standards in this field should be substituted for the quantum ones. In this respect, semiconductor structures allow creating electric resistance standard based on the quantum Hall effect and volt and electric charge standards based on single electron effects in nanostructures. An example of the latter effect is single electron oscillations in the system with two tunnel junctions in titanium—titanium oxide nanostructures.

In addition, a variant of nanometer standard based on elementary steps at the atomically flat silicon crystal surface, which can be considered as the morphology “quanta” or primary standards, has been proposed at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics. The extreme accuracy of the standard has resulted from relating the monoatomic step parameters to those of the thermodynamically equilibrium parameters of the perfect silicon crystal lattice (at the given temperature and pressure).

At present, methods and technologies that have been developed allow creating test objects for precise calibrations of pieces of equipment which provide linear measurements of nanostructures used in nanotechnologies. Such test objects developed at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS) have been already used by the Russian firm NT-MDT to calibrate atomic-force microscopes produced in it.

The future starts today

Great perspectives in the development of nanotechnologies in nanoelectronics can be sketched as a “genealogical” tree.

It is expected that already in the nearest future photodetector devices and elements as well as energy saving semiconductor light sources will be mass produced. The latter devices will substitute all the existing light sources, the efficiency of which does not exceed several tens of percent.

Next, systems of total control based on nanophotonic elements will be created. Intellectual energy saving and transport management systems, smart houses, and management systems for controlling the ecological parameters for environment will be developed.

In the future, the size and mass of telecommunication systems will sharply decrease. Revolution in information technologies and computer systems will result in the emergence of such computer elements as quantum bits. In the remote future, quantum computers and terabit memory will appear.

Quantum computers will be capable of radically improving cryptographic systems used to protect confidential information transfer. They will be used for accelerated data base search and user signature authentication systems based on his/her digital signature.

Spintronics, a field of quantum electronics in which for physical representation of information, along with the charge, particle spin related with their own mechanic moment is used, is being developed for nanostructures already today. Nanoelectronics makes broad use of the quantum effect: electron tunneling and quantization of electron levels in quantum wells result in changes in state density in small size semiconductors. Considerable interest has been shown in the study of quantum bits and quantum systems from two states. In the nearest future, so-called entangled quantum state systems* from two particles can find broad use.

*Entanglement is the ability of microworld particles, for example, atoms, photons, and electrons to couple when approaching each other so that the quantum states of these particles will always be connected even if they are set widely apart. To use entangled quantum states for practical applications, it is necessary to learn to create and to transfer them at a considerable distance; then separate external noise and receive a “pure” state. 
If to imagine that some “ball” can be black or white, it is possible to speak about “zero” and “one” in relation to computer hardware or about the “ball” coding one bit. In the microworld, operating according to the laws of quantum physics, the “ball” presenting electron, photon or the atomic nucleus can be found in a superposition, i. e., in an intermediary state between zero and one. But it will not be a gray color “ball,” as could be inferred by analogy with the ordinary world; it will present a certain relationship of probabilities that this “ball” will be either black or white. As a result, the number of the “ball’s” states is incredibly high!

Quantum mechanics promises a variety of practical applications that might be quite unexpected at times. For example, thin titanium nitride superconducting films under certain conditions can become ideal insulators (superinsulators). Their resistance increases 100,000 times, which allows us to speak about the existence of superinsulation, a new quantum state of the substance (V. Vinokur, T. Baturina et al., 2008). Like a superconductor, a superinsulator is a system without Joule energy loss. The system can leave this state by thresholding when applying voltage or magnetic field. So far, such state has been detected only at super low temperatures of about 0.2 K, which, in the opinion of the expert community, opens new prospects in space technologies, such as the development of a variety of electronic devices, including switches, diodes, magnetic sensors and so on with close to ideal characteristics.

To conclude, even though with a delay, nanoboom has started in Russia as well. To a large extent, it has been “virtual” so far because the main nanotechnological products have come in the form of nanopowders, representing the previous-generation products, according to Western standards. However, we have the researchers with the necessary knowledge base in the field who started their studies in nanotechnologies long before the fuss in the media started.

The Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences has all the necessary components to conduct research in the field, including highly qualified staff and the infrastructure. Judging by the achievements conforming to the highest world standards, the SB RAS has all the chances of occupying one of the leading positions in nanoscience in Russia.

In any event, it should not be forgotten that Russia’s Achilles’ heel is not in the lack of smart and skilled people but in the difficulty of bringing the results of scientific research to the stage of practical application. For this reason even with considerable state support of the nanotechnological field, in the words of the former Russian prime-minister Mikhail Fradkov, “businessmen should understand that if they do not go into nanotechnolgies today, they will miss all the opportunities and in the best case scenario will work in dirty robes at oil well-sites, which will be managed by our foreign friends and partners.”

The author and the editorial board would like to thank for cooperation the researchers from the Rzhanov Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS) Dr. L. I. Fedina and RAS corresponding member A. V. Latyshev for their help in preparing the article for publication. Many researchers from the Institute of Semiconductor Physics (SB RAS) took part in obtaining the results that have been presented. The author would like to express his special thanks to the RAS corresponding member A. V. Dvurechenskii, professor, D.Sc. V. A. Gaysler, professor, D.Sc. Z. D. Kvon, D.Sc. V. N. Ovsuyk, D.Sc.B. Z. Olshanetsky, D.Sc. V. P. Popov, professor, D.Sc. O. P. Pchelyakov, professor, D.Sc. Yu. G. Sidorov, Dr. T. I. Baturina, Dr. I. V. Sabinina, Dr. V. A. Tkachenko, Dr. S. A. Tiys, Dr. A. I. Toropov, Dr. D. V. Sheglov, researchers D. A. Nasimov and S. S. Kosolobov  

Like the article? Share it with your friends

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter