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Posted: Aug 08, 2013

RUSNANOPRIZE nomination process reveals emerging technologies in Russia

(Nanowerk News) The Nanotechnological Society of Russia is keen to attract strong potential applicants for the RUSNANOPRIZE Award 2013. This event is a good opportunity to meet breakthrough industrial technologies in the fields of nanosciences and nanotechnologies. Here is a short introduction of two Russian scientific organizations with good stories of commercialization.
The RUSNANOPRIZE Award is international in scope and scientists can apply from all over the world. The only mandatory requirement is the proof of a good commercial story along with scientific findings. For the Nanotechnological Society of Russia, domestic success stories are of the most interest. It might come as a surprise to most international specialists but many competitive high-tech centers still exist in Russia, transferring their developments to industry. There are at least two systemic causes for the international 'invisibility' of these Russian research centers: 1) traditionally, all applied developments are strongly focused on internal industries, and 2) Russian scientists – again traditionally – have limited competences in promoting and marketing their results.
With this in mind, it might be interesting for the international community to get to know better some areas of Russian science and technology which are strong enough to be nominated to the RUSNANOPRIZE Award. Below is a description of two commercial firms with extensive manufacturing facilities and sales worldwide. Both are based on research from large scientific centers and engineering schools.
Synthetic diamonds: charming blinks in X-rays
Among many unique properties of diamond crystals there are two which are critical for X-ray optics applications: radiation stability and short interatomic bonds. It allows in principle to create Bragg mirrors for X-rays of high intensity. But in practice, the efficiency of diamond optics for X-ray wavelengths has been limited by crystal defects and impurities in naturally occurring diamonds.
For example, one extremely promising area of science – XFEL (X-ray free-electron lasers) – requires more than 90% reflection for Bragg mirrors. XFEL in turn is a powerful tool for tomography studies of the spatial structure of molecular complexes with sub-nanometer resolution. This challenge has been faced by scientists from Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials (TISNCM), who were able to produce synthetic diamond crystals with controlled defects and impurities level. Special technologies of ultra-pure crystal growth and polishing resulted in Bragg mirrors with 98-99% reflection. Unique X-ray laser beam characteristics with this type of optics were obtained by Argonne National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, both in the United States.
Conductive diamond – still the hardest
The ability to control the impurity level has another commercial application. In particular, conductive forms of diamond can be manufactured with very high reproducibility. Conductive diamonds in turn can be used for a new generation of material testing instruments.
Well-known techniques for measuring the hardness of a material are based on controlled pressing of a diamond tip into the material or on scratching the surface with this tip followed by analysis of indents or scratches respectively. Combined with high precision scanning tools this approach evolved into nanoindentation techniques. If the nanoindentor probe – the diamond tip – becomes conductive, one can explore electrical properties of material surface simultaneously with nanomechanical testing. All these options (and much more of course e.g. tools for tribology, scanning force microscopy, etc.) have been implemented in the commercial scientific instrument “NanoScan 3D”.
Ghost spectra
NT-MDT is a well-established worldwide brand in the field of scanning probe microscopy. It provides a broad range of SPM tools for different applications and one of the most promising is the equipment for Raman spectroscopy of single molecules. The company has been promoting it actively but it is worth to recount the principle.
Raman scattering can characterize not only intramolecular bonds but also provide information about molecules' surroundings, conformation of macromolecules, stresses and defects in crystal lattice, etc. But the Raman signal by its nature is very weak – only one photon from 10 million is scattered in a proper way. Thus the signal should be collected from a relatively large mass of matter. Moreover, as any other techniques based on visible light, Raman spectroscopy is limited by diffraction. Commonly it is a bulk method with spatial resolution limited to 200 nm.
A Raman signal can be increased by several orders of magnitude by the so-called tip-enhanced Raman scattering effect (TERS). Putting the special probe tip into a tightly focused laser beam results in a much stronger signal from beneath the tip than from the remaining illuminated area. Thus the XY resolution of the spectroscopy can be achieved down to 10 nm. With this technique it is possible to recognize even separate molecules by their Raman spectra.
New era of electronic devices
A much less known branch of NT-MDT’s development is associated with nanoelectronics. This is their high vacuum equipment for surface modification and all other technologies required to produce integrated circuits (ICs). The aim was to create a platform with extreme freedom of customization on the one hand and with maximal range of techniques available on the other hand. This has resulted in fully robotized workstations that can be installed to manufacture small series of ICs with customized architecture. The idea behind this is revolutionary. Current micro- and nanoelectronics technologies are so sophisticated that the final chip design needs to be produced in very large quantities in order to be economically justifiable. This fact automatically narrows the possible application window: new devices can be based only on serial chips with binary computer logics. On the other hand, there already exist a great potential for new chip architecture principles (e.g. neuromorphic logics). The development of new device generations is delayed by the high cost of chip development. This gap can be overcome by a new equipment philosophy. Modules for a wide variety of technologies assembled into technological clusters can be easily adapted to almost any manufacturing process with all operations performed within a closed vacuum system. Thus the experimental manufacturing facility becomes very compact and infrastructure costs decrease significantly.
RUSNANOPRIZE nomination is still open – now is a good time to apply
While the technologies described above are just examples, the expert group and the Award Committee may - and most probably will - judge by differing criteria. The key dates of the RUSNANOPRIZE Award are as follows:
  • The deadline for sending the application form is 20th of August;
  • The shortlist will be announced in the end of September;
  • The Laureate will be determined early in October.
  • Source: RUSNANOPRIZE Directorate
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