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High-Tech Center To Help Create Nano-Manufacturing Processes

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The next generation of mobile devices could be built with materials and machines created, in part, at the University of New Mexico.

UNM will share in an $18.5 million National Science Foundation grant with two other universities to build new nanotechnology-based manufacturing processes that could immensely increase the computing power of mobile devices.

“The end goals are to significantly increase memory in cellphones and other devices, create higher-resolution displays at lower cost to provide better images, enable faster communications, and make batteries much longer lasting,” said Steven Brueck, director of UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials.

The center will join a newly created Nanoscale Engineering Research Center that includes the University of Texas at Austin as project leader and the University of California at Berkeley. The partners will work together to develop new processes and high-precision machines to manipulate, manufacture and sculpt materials at the nanoscale for use in mobile computing devices.

For example, the development of silicon “nanowires,” or microscopic semiconductor needles of just one to 10 microns, could be used to improve anodes in lithium-ion batteries, potentially leading to a fourfold increase in battery storage capacity, Brueck said.

The partners also will develop new ways to harness grapheme, a semiconductor element that could be used to replace silicon in the future.

The partners say their collective work could reduce the energy needed for cellphone memory storage by up to 75 percent, while increasing data-storage density by more than five times its current capacity.

“It will lead to a new generation of improvements for devices we use in our every day lives,” said UNM computer and electrical engineering professor Olga Lavrova, who will assist in the project.

The UNM center’s primary responsibility will be to develop ways to closely monitor whether new nano-manufacturing processes are working as expected.

“We need a new type of machine with sophisticated tools to look at defects in great detail and tell operators in real time, or nearly real time, whether things are working, and tell them to stop if they’re not,” Brueck said.

Corporations that will assist in the research include Texas Instruments, 3M, Lockheed Martin, Applied Materials and Corning Inc.

The initial grant is for five years, but more NSF money could flow later. “These are typically ten-year programs,” Brueck said.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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