Electronics, Communications and Informatics - Challenges, Drivers of Change and Success in the UK

Topics Covered

Background

Challenges Facing the UK in the Nanoelectronics Sector

Skill Shortages in the UK

What Is Needed to Create UK Nanotechnology Companies in Informatics

Research and Development in the UK - an Overview

Drivers of Change - Fabrication and Functionality

Developments in Printing and Lithography

What is Functionality in the Context of Informatics?

Strengths and Weaknesses of UK Industry in the Electronics and IT Sector

What Will UK Success in the Field of Nanoelectronics Look Like?

Which Factors Will Determine UK Success in the Field of Nanoelectronics?

What Will Be the Indicators of UK Success in the Nanoelectronics Sector?

What Does the UK Need to Achieve This Success?

Background

Research in the UK is of high quality, but faces problems in the transfer to industry. The UK is strong in telecommunications. Optoelectronics, where the UK is strong in niche optical communications areas, dominates the ICT industry. Optoelectronics is effectively the flagship of the nanotechnology and microelectronics sector in the UK. A range of companies has grown rapidly from small beginnings over the past decade. The industry is well supported by a strong R&D base. Although promising, the market is volatile: future success depends on world markets. The UK is strong in several important areas for long-term development of informatics. In the field of photonic crystal, there is strong R&D, reflecting past UK Government support and the relative strength of the country in photonics.

Challenges Facing the UK in the Nanoelectronics Sector

The UK lacks an industrial base that can commercialise many of the results of even high quality and well-funded research. While there have been research programmes dedicated to micro and nanotechnology technologies in the past, at present there are no specific programmes. Though the UK continues to fund R&D in the field through activities on related subjects, there are concerns that the research lacks either critical mass or sufficient focus.

Skill Shortages in the UK

Skill shortages are widely recognised as a problem: physical sciences (chemistry, physics, and materials science) have recruitment difficulties. The exciting intellectual, economic, and social opportunities of nanotechnology, if it is an increasingly well-funded field, might offset this, attracting talented young people.

What Is Needed to Create UK Nanotechnology Companies in Informatics

It will take large numbers of professionals, with interdisciplinary perspectives, to build nanotechnology industries in informatics as well as other application areas. These businesses will depend upon highly trained multidisciplinary teams. This will challenge the compartmentalised learning of educational institutions. The solution is not new degrees in nanotechnology that provide only a shallow overview of many disciplines.

Research and Development in the UK - an Overview

Research and demonstration programmes are needed to establish the right balance between specialisation and interdisciplinary training, and the way of delivering it. Additionally, education in nanoscience and technology will require special and often expensive laboratory facilities. Many engineering schools cannot now offer students any exposure to nanofabrication. We will have to find innovative solutions, such as new partnerships with industry; shared nanofabrication facilities across consortia of colleges, universities, and engineering schools, with web-based, remote access, and so on.

Drivers of Change - Fabrication and Functionality

Two issues are particularly important here: fabrication and functionality. The importance of fabrication resides in the need to be able to manufacture informatics products of high quality in large volumes.

Developments in Printing and Lithography

Printing and lithography will continue to grow in importance, with scalability a prominent issue. We will need the capability for optical lithography for mass production at nanotechnology scale. Feature size may well be reached 70-nm level in commercially viable devices by 2006. In the longer term, self-assembly offers a way of breaking through the anticipated ceilings for the long-established trajectories of miniaturisation. By 2006, this may be emerging.

What is Functionality in the Context of Informatics?

Functionality simply means that market needs are fundamental to the development of nanotechnology applications in informatics. Firms in the sector face intense competition in delivering functionality, through such features as device size and weight, processing speed and power, data storage and power consumption. Mobile devices for communications and computing are significant end-uses, if anything increasing in importance in 2006.

Strengths and Weaknesses of UK Industry in the Electronics and IT Sector

The UK has some strengths in information technology industries, especially telecommunications, photonics, and software and content sectors. However, with hardware, the absence of a large native CMOS industry and associated fabrication and infrastructure capabilities, and shortages of skilled personnel, mean that in many areas the UK lacks critical mass. Pockets of strength reside in niche areas, and both capitalising on, and overcoming this is a major challenge.  

What Will UK Success in the Field of Nanoelectronics Look Like?

The success scenario can be characterised in terms of a number of applications developments in which the UK could anticipate playing a substantial role:

•        Quantum structure electronic devices will be important by 2006 and be growing in importance. This may build on current successes with quantum well lasers, where there is established UK expertise, and the anticipated commercialisation of self-organised quantum dots.

•        Photonic crystal structures, offering photonic integrated circuits with new functionality, will be emerging as industrially significant products.

•        Nanostructured displays, including polymers, should be moving toward commercialisation by 2006, becoming highly important by 2010. The combination of high resolution and low power will be a major commercial factor.

•        Quantum information technology will have a major impact on a timescale of one or two decades, and should be attracting considerable research effort in the near future. Self-assembled fault tolerant data state and computation systems are also a long-term development.

Which Factors Will Determine UK Success in the Field of Nanoelectronics?

What will enable us to get there? The major factors that can help to make this scenario a reality are: first, the quality of basic and applied research in the contributory disciplines, but critical mass in research is also important. Critical mass is also required in infrastructural and, for example, fabrication facilities. Some of this may be achieved through international collaboration within and even beyond Europe. Availability of skilled people will be another critical factor. Several other factors will also be significant, if less central. Availability of finance, with investment that is sustained and consistent, is bound to remain important. The costs associated with intellectual property rights could also be a barrier to development.

What Will Be the Indicators of UK Success in the Nanoelectronics Sector?

Indicators that the scenario of UK success in this application area is being achieved include (with figures in 2001 terms):

•        The UK’s share of all ICT products remains at least at current values (and the markets are growing), but preferably increases (from, say, 10 per cent now to 13 per cent in 2006).

•        Industrial R&D expenditures in informatics-related nanotechnology increases by 2006, to roughly 10 times the value of the 2001 figure.

•        Likewise, industrial patenting in the area from the UK increases tenfold.

•        Expenditure by Research Councils reaches around £80 million a year, with capital investment for a major centre by 2006 is around £100 million.

•        Training occupies around 150 PhDs per year, with 300 trained technicians entering the workplace.

•        Development of research expertise should result in high quality research and be reflected in, for example, the UK holding on to its current bibliometric and citation impact.

What Does the UK Need to Achieve This Success?

For this scenario to be realised, we need such actions as:

•        Establishment of a major centre or similar facility for research, fabrication and training in nanotechnology informatics, bridging and combining academic and industrial lines of work. Funds would be a mixture of private and public, with substantial inputs from other countries.

•        Substantial development by universities of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary training in related areas, including mathematics as well as physical and information sciences and engineering, and covering such business topics as intellectual property management.

•        Academic/industry collaboration to establish ‘supercritical’ research teams on key subjects.

Primary author: Dr John Taylor, OBE, FRS, FEng, Director-General of the Research Councils.

Source: Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Report entitled ‘New Dimensions for Manufacturing: A UK Strategy for Nanotechnology’, published in June 2002.

For more information on this source please visit http://www.dti.gov.uk.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this article?

Leave your feedback
Submit