by Christopher Lindquist

Nanotechnology: Circuits on Everything!

Apr 15, 20042 mins
Data Center

Nanotechnology has many reputations, ranging from “historic opportunity” to “potential cataclysm.” At Nanosys, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based research and development company, they’d rather that it just prove useful.

“Our goal is to be able to provide a [nanotech-based] component that [our partners] can seamlessly integrate into their own manufacturing process,” says Stephen Empedocles, cofounder and director of business development at Nanosys. That integration could lead to any of a number of product improvements, from lowering manufacturing costs to increasing a part’s life expectancy to enhancing performance.

The company is currently working in three areas of potential product development: photovoltaic, or solar cells; thin-film electronics, such as those used in flat-panel displays; and surface coating technology that would allow flexible electronic circuits to be printed onto objects.

Nanosys technology has attracted the attention of a number of highly visible-if sometimes rather secretive-partners. The company has received backing from the CIA’s investment arm, In-Q-Tel. Plus it currently has agreements with the likes of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Intel (with whom it is working on a nanotech-based memory project. “The only group that’s probably more secretive than [the CIA] is Intel,” Empedocles quips).

On the less mysterious side, Empedocles says that a collaboration with Matsushita Electric Works in Japan will likely result in new nanotech-enhanced photovoltaics that will allow Matsushita to integrate solar cells with building materials, creating a roofing tile that doubles as a source of electricity, for example. Products based on the technology are slated for release in 2006, according to Empedocles. Other Nanosys products also are making headway, such as its thin-film technology, which could finds its way into less expensive and less power-hungry laptop computer screens in only a few years.

“We have a lot of long-term visions,” Empedocles says. “[But] we create a lot of short-term opportunities.”