Sunday, September 10, 2006

Nanoribbon and the Kiwi Connection

There are so many "Nano" companies out these days that I hate to even use the term. Nano has become the new in my opinion, flailing away in the capital markets with all manner of new and improved esoterica presumed to address nascent billion dollar markets. A google search will show you that there are already hundreds of products with "nano" in the names, yet very few to actually incorporate anything nano.

Of couse, nanotechnology has been around for a very long time. We used ot call it chemistry. Pigments, plastics, inks, cosmetics -- these are all nano and known for centuries. But the nanotech revolution revived what was a rather boring landscape of traditional chemical science, and now every chemistry department is "doing nano".

Naturally there are a lot of claims being made, and many patents being issued. Some larger companies such as NEC claim to have discovered carbon nanotubes in 1991, which is fairly recent. Numerous press releases recant the assertion that Ijima of NEC discovered carbon nanotubes, and the same sentiment gets repeated over and over in the academic press, too. This is the kind of thing where repetition results in accepted truth - say it enough times and it will be true! Now, I don't know NEC's Ijima, the person they give the credit to, but I am sure he is a very nice guy.

Which makes me wonder why John Abrahamson and Peter Wiles,chemists from University of Caterbury, New Zealand don't get the Nobel Prize for their discovery of Carbon Nanotubes in the late 1970's while we were all still in the grips of disco. I also wonder why so few companies and academic researchers have bothered to do the research that shows that the inventive Kiwis were way before anyone. MIT's Dresselhaus, et al, in this 1998 review article, seem studiously unaware of the work of Abrahamson and Wiles.

So anyway the ribbon microphone is also an example of existing nanotech in several ways. First, the ribbon is a microns-thin device and a micron is merely a thousand nanometers, exactly. Then there is the ribbon excursion, which is very much in the range of just a few nanometers, or billionths of a meter, yet enough movement to produce a signal that we can record. Remarkable. Even more, the oxide layers and the contact surfaces, all which make a difference in the sound of the microphone, are nanoscale phenomena. Because of the thinness of certain materials, there are interference effects that can render colors, such as a blue iridescence that can be seen. Tempting to imagine the name "Blue Ribbon" on this guy.

No comments: