November 2, 2004
JbE EAihtriuta aiu
BY ADRIAN CHEN
DAILY STAFF REPORTER
Turing the Solid State Electronics
Laboratory is like being in a subma-
rine - pipes and tubes line narrow,
dimly lit halls, and the monotony of cinder-
block walls is broken occasionally by con-
soles bristling with meters and valves, strobe
lights ready to flash out warnings should
something go wrong.
The hallways pass large racks of buzzing
metal and wire and a constant hum resonates
from the floor.
Sandrine Martin pauses while navigating the
SSEL's corridors to point to a room emitting a
pale yellow glow. "That's our most expensive
piece of equipment," says Martin, an adjunct
electrical engineering and computer science pro-
fessor. Inside is a large rectangular box that looks
like a stainless steel refrigerator on its side, only
with more doors. It's called an electron-beam
lithographer, and it costs $1 million.
The point of it all: to produce as little as
possible. That's the mantra of the fields of
micro- and nanotechnology, which are at
the center of research in the North Campus
lab. Micro- and nanotechnology deal with
the manipulation of substances at extremely
small scales to make tiny mechanisms and
electronics. The difference between micro-
and nanotechnology lies solely in scale: Nan-
otechnology is more minuscule extension of
Less is more for the scientists who continually
push for smaller structures and finer detail. And
today, "less" is tinier than ever before: "micro"
refers to the micron, a unit of length that is a mil-
lionth of a meter (a human hair is 15 microns
in diameter). A nanometer is a thousandth of a
micron or one billionth of a meter.
"When you go down to these levels, you are
at the same scales as the distance between two
atoms or a molecule," Martin said.
But Martin and her colleagues' obsession with
ever shrinking-technology begs the question:
What's the point?
Khalil Najafi, an electrical engineering and
computer science professor and director of the
SSEL, smiled when asked the question.
"Well, that will take a long time to answer."
very aspect of modern life and many
scientific fields, such as biotechnol-
ogy, could potentially be impacted
by nanotechnology, Najafi said.
"Because it deals with the smallest elements
of many objects, nanotechnology will have a
profound impact on"
everything from the The point of
materials we use in
our daily lives, such produce as lit
as coatings to protect
fabric, to many new
drugs being developed that require (nanotechnol-
ogy) to amplify their effectiveness and reduce
their side effects," he said. Using nanotechnolo-
gy, researchers can gain insight into the chemical
makeup of these fabrics and drugs and manipu-
at the electri-
science lab on
Because of high
costs, the lab is
one of the few
of its kind in
the country and
shares its facili-
ties with outside,
The lab is also
now part of a
ogy labs that
gration of the
field into other,
A s much as it has benefited the University
community, nanotechnology has been
good for Ann Arbor's economy as well.
An entire industry of micro- and nanotechnology
startups has sprung up around the area thanks to
the facilities at the SSEL, Terry said.
"Without these facilities, those companies
wouldn't be here," he said.
Nanotechnology has the potential to benefit the
state of Michigan as well, said John Bedz, direc-
tor of the Michigan Small Tech Association - an
organization dedicated to promoting micro- and
nanotechnology investment in the state.
"Material sciences have always been par-
ticularly important to the state's economy,
and the ability to work at this scale will
make nanotechnology an important part of
the future," he said. "Nano-enhanced appli-
cations will find their way into everything.
Anything that's made of something can ben-
efit from nanotechnology."
Bedz cited Telurex, a Michigan company, as
an instance of nanotechnology's contribution
THE SKINNY ON THE BOOMING NANOTECH IN
late them to increase their efficiency.
This same technology could offer doctors
new ways to monitor their patients' vital signs
through tiny implanted machines, Martin said.
"These devices can go through the skin or use
the blood system as channels and circulate in
the body," she said. Once there, they can be used
to check up on a patient or administer specifi-
cally targeted drugs.
Nanotechnology could also aid environ-
mental scientists in developing strategies to
combat pollution. "Pollution is caused - in
one form or another - by nano-sized par-
ticles, and understanding how these particles
are generated and interact with one another
and the atmosphere will help us to either
prevent or mitigate problems that come up,"
it all: to
ttle as possible
ogy isn't just part of a
distant future where
tiny robots scrub the
air. In fact, nanotech-
nology is already ubiquitous in today's world.
You just might not be able to see it - and that's
Advances in micro- and nanotechnology, for
instance, are responsible for the small-and-get-
ting-smaller size of many
"Already, many electronic
products from computers to
... music players and cameras
incorporate what we call 'nan-
es," Najafi said. "Computer
chips are made of transistors
that are about 100 nanometers
large and can therefore con-
tain hundreds of millions of
transistors in an area smaller
than a postage stamp."
also been put to prac-
tical use outside the
electronics industry; compa-
nies have used nanotechnol-
ogy to develop stain-resistant
pants and flexible tennis rac-
quets with the strength of
steel. These materials were
made using many techniques
perfected in nanotechnology
labs like the SSEL.
And as nano- and micro-
technology advance, the fields
to which they can be applied
continue to expand.
cal systems is one area of
research being explored at
the SSEL that could have a
wide-reaching impact. MES
aims to build complex gear
systems, motors and valves
at the micron level. These
components can then be assembled to make fully
Najafi is working on integrating MES with
wireless technology to develop tiny sensors with
a broad range of applications.
These sensors could be applied to fields
not normally associated with microtech-
nology, such as environmental science and
homeland security. For example, Najafi and
his colleagues are attempting to shrink a
collection of large lab instruments into a
"wristwatch laboratory" that could monitor
airborne biological threats or pollution - all
powered by a watch battery. This portable
lab could offer near-instantaneous results in
a convenient package.
As the field of microtechnology expands, nan-
otechnology is sure to follow, Martin said.
The broadening of the nanotechnology field
should offer benefits to many more scientists, but
it introduces new challenges for researchers and
labs like the SSEL, Martin said.
More scientists interested in 'nanotechnology
leads to more scientists coming to labs like the
SSEL - scientists who may or may not be famil-
iar with the delicate machinery used and complex
protocols followed at the lab.
And protocols and delicacy are of the utmost
importance when working at the nanometer level.
As the scale of this work shrinks, the number
of precautions taken to ensure a clean working
environment and functioning equipment grows
"At these small scales, a thing of dust is huge,"
Martin said. "This is a problem when you're
doing micro- and-nanoelectronics: A dirt particle
on a circuit can ruin it."
So the SSEL keeps its equipment in sterile
"clean rooms" bathed in yellow light to protect
it from damaging ultraviolet rays. Research-
ers are swaddled in blue coveralls and surgical
masks so that only their eyes show - and those
are encased in safety goggles to contain errant
eyelashes. Ventilators roar as they furiously
circulate air to prevent dust buildup, changing
the air in the room as many as 500 times an
hour. A normal office building usually has one
air change per hour.
But despite these precautions, problems with
the equipment abound.
"It's really what you could call bad equip-
ment," Martin said. "It's very expensive to buy,
expensive to install, expensive to maintain, and
it breaks down often." Even a 75 percent rate of
operation is considered a boon, she said.
The difficulty and cost of maintaining the
equipment needed for nanotechnology research
means that only a select number of universities
and companies can have extensive facilities like
the SSEL. As a result, scientists looking to work
on nanotechnology often have to travel a substan-
tial distance to such labs.
The lab has hosted people from all over the
United States, and local companies regularly
use the facility, Martin said. And this is where
the inexperience and lack of knowledge is most
"We had people coming.in who weren't famil-
iar with nanotechnology and didn't know how to
use the equipment," Martin said. When searching
for help with the facilities, it was often hit-or-miss,
with no structured training program in place.
But starting this year, the SSEL is a mem-
ber of the National Nanotechnology Infra-
structure Network, and Martin thinks
things are changing for the better. NNIN is a
nationwide network of 13 nanotechnology facili-
ties, sponsored by the National Science Founda-
tion, charged with increasing accessibility to the
field through greater training and outreach.
Earlier this year, the SSEL was named as part
of the network following a nationwide competi-
tion. As an NNIN facility, the SSEL receives $1.2
million annually, which is used primarily to hire
and pay new staff.
The staff was hired partially to accommodate
a potential increase in new users, as one of the
goals of NNIN is to get more people outside of
the field involved with nanotechnology research.
Najafi, who along
with his colleague te
EECS Prof. Fred Terry At these sn
is responsible for bring- thif du
ing the NNIN to Michi-
gan, is excited about the
ability to reach out to
other fields that NNIN Electric
"More and more peo- Computer Scienc
hall scales, a
st is huge."
- Sandrine Martin
cal Engineering and
e Adjunct Professor
to the state's econo-
my. Based in Traverse
City, the company has
developed cup holders
that can change tem-
perature to keep hot
drinks warm or cold
drinks cool based on
Bedz also said the
auto industry, which
ple are saying, 'If only I
could do that (using nanotechnology),' " he said.
"Now we can have professional staff to help them
get in the lab and do it."
Martin, who is the new NNIN technical
manager, said the SSEL's status as a hub for
nanotechnology research should help every-
one involved with nanotechnology at the
The new staff and training procedures
should especially help external users who are
relatively unfamiliar with nanotechnology,
"Now, instead of having to search for a lot of
answers ... (outside users) are a little more guid-
ed." Martin said, "The training is anew thing; it's
more formalized. A lot of people are getting a lot
of help so things should be easier."
Najafi said the exchange of ideas that will
accompany an influx of outside researchers
should be beneficial for all involved.
"We can learn from them, and they can
learn from us," he said. The coordination
between departments within the University
as more faculty take advantage of nano-
technology resources should also help all
involved advance their respective research,
This is already happening to an extent.
Najafi referred to an instance when a geol-
ogy professor with no nanotechnology
experience was able to take advantage of
the SSEL facilities to create an artificial
rock for a project.
is always looking for stronger, lighter materials,
could look to nanotechnology.
Research at the University could also have
a direct impact on fields such as the computer
Linjie Guo, an EECS professor, is developing
a procedure called nanoimprinting that could
change the way microprocessors are made.
Currently, microchips are made using a
technique called electron-beam lithography
to "etch" the tiny circuits and patterns needed
into a chip. This is becoming more and more
expensive as processors get more complex.
Guo and his colleagues have developed what
they said is a more efficient process wherein a
design can be "stamped" onto a surface using
a template. The computer industry has taken
"This technique is becoming quite success-
ful," he said. "The semiconductor industry has
officially put this on their road map for their next
generations of chips."
Nanotechnology may seem like a lucrative
field, but it takes a lot of upfront capital to get
things started: The hourly rate for access at the
SSEL can be upwards of $70 an hour for external,
non-University users - materials not included.
But if you have the cash and an affinity for
blue coveralls, the world of nanotechnology
awaits. And the newly established NNIN should
make things that much easier. Just don't drop
whatever it is you're working on-chances are
you'll never find it.
'U' researchers look into mystery of late-onset autism
By Kingson Man
Daily Staff Reporter
Just as he turns 19 months old, a child
suddenly loses his interest in playing peek-
a-boo. Skills that he was just learning to
acquire - making eye contact, using ges-
tures and forming meaningful words - are
mysteriously lost. The child, who seemed
to be developing normally during his first
year and a half. is now displaying signs of
then they begin to show a drastic decline in
social and cognitive ability.
Recent findings by University researchers
tracks the path of regression in a subset of
children with autism indicating that children
do not suddenly become autistic after devel-
oping normally for a year and a half The
studies will be published in upcoming issues
of Developmental Psychology and the Jour-
nal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
In the studies gathered information from
After the onset of regression, however,
these children are impaired to an equal or
greater degree as autistic children with-
out regression. This effect, so far, has been
observed for years afterward.
For this subset of autistics, those with
regression start ahead of afflicted newborns
but end behind in measures of social and
Jennifer Richler, one of the lead research-
ers of the study and a psychology graduate
found no evidence for such a link," Richler.
There was also no link between the vac-
cine and the regressive form of autism.
However, the study found other links.
Interviews with parents of autistic children
showed that there was a connection between
the disorder and a family history of autoim-
While the authors of the papers acknowl-
edged the help of parents of autistic children
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