RUSNANOPRIZE Nomination Process Reveals Great Emerging Technologies in Russia

Nanotechnological Society of Russia is involved in the process of attracting strong potential applicants for the RUSNANOPRIZE Award 2013. It occurred to be a good possibility to meet break-through industrial technologies. Here is a short introduction of two Russian scientific centers with good stories of commercialization.

The RUSNANOPRIZE Award is the international one so a scientist can apply from all over the world. The only obligatory criterion is the proof of a good commercial story along with scientific one. For the Nanotechnological Society of Russia in turn domestic success stories are of the most interest. It can be unexpected for most of international specialists but many competitive high-tech centers still exist in Russia implementing their developments into industry. There are at least two system causes for invisibility of such centers: 1) traditionally all applied developments are strongly focused on the internal industries, and 2) Russian scientists – again traditionally – have limited competences in marketing promotion of their results.

From this point of view it can be interesting to meet some applied areas of Russian science and technology which are strong enough to be nominated to the RUSNANOPRIZE Award. Here are described two commercial firms with serious manufacturing facilities and sales worldwide. Both are based on large scientific centers, both are deeply rooted from USSR engineering schools.

Synthetic diamonds: charming blinks in X-rays

Among many unique properties of the diamond crystal there are two 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 was limited by crystal defects and impurities in naturally born diamonds.

For example the 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 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 in Argonne National Laboratory and in SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (both in USA).

Conductive diamond – still the hardest

The ability to control the impurity level occurred to have another commercial application. In particular conductive forms of diamond can be manufactured with very high reproducibility. Conductive diamonds in turn can be used for new generation of material testing instruments.

Well-known techniques for measuring the material hardness are based on controlled pressing of the diamond pyramid into the material or on scratching the surface by this pyramid followed by analysis of indents or scratches respectively. Combined with high precision scanning tools this approach evolved to the so-called nanoindentation. If the nanoindentor probe – the diamond pyramid – 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 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 prospective is the equipment for Raman spectroscopy of single molecules. The company has been promoting it actively but it is worth to remind the principle.

Raman scattering can characterize not only intramolecular bonds but also provide information about molecule’s 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 proper way. Thus the signal should be collected from 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.

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 tightly focused laser beam one can get the signal from beneath the tip much stronger than from all the rest illuminated area. Thus the XY resolution of the spectroscopy can be achieved down to 10 nm. This is the way to recognize even separate molecules by their Raman spectra.

New era of electronic devices

Much less known branch of NT-MDT’s development is associated with nanoelectronics. This is the high vacuum equipment for surface modification and all other technologies required to produce ICs. The aim was to create the platform with extreme freedom of customization on the one hand and with maximal range of techniques available on the other hand. Now the fully robotized workstation can be installed to manufacture small series of ICs with customized architecture.

The driving idea is revolutionary. Current micro- and nanoelectronics technologies are so sophisticated that economically it is worth to produce the final chip only by very large series. 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 and not only). The coming of new devices era is delayed by the high cost of new chips development. This gap can be overcome by new equipment philosophy. Modules for wide variety of technologies assembled into technological clusters can be easily adapted to almost any manufacturing process with all operations performed within closed vacuum system. Thus the experimental manufacturing facility becomes very compact and infrastructure costs drastically decrease.

RUSNANOPRIZE nomination is going on – apply now!

The described technologies here attracted the attention of the author of this article. The expert group and the Award Committee may (and most probably will) judge by differing criteria. Anyway the Award competition is always the challenge and the more people apply the more honorable is the win for the Laureate. The key dates of the RUSNANOPRIZE Award are the following:

– 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.


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