Atom by Atom Manufacturing: Making atomically perfect materials and machines

John N. Randall
President, Zyvex Labs

2322nd Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 18 2013 8:15 PM


Technological progress is limited by manufacturing precision, a relationship first studied by Norio Taniguichi in the 1970s. Revolutionary inventions, even when made into working prototypes, have languished without realizing societal or economic benefits for long periods (hundreds of years) after their invention because manufacturing precision necessary to mass produce them was not available. A contemporary example of precision's limitation on technology is embodied in Moore's Law. The fundamental limitation on the growth of integrated circuit capacity is the precision with which circuit features can be reliably manufactured.

Taniguichi, who coined the term "nanotechnology," wondered if there is a fundamental limit on precision. Richard Feynman suggested the possibilities of atomic precision - "there's plenty of room at the bottom," he said, and asked what might become possible if we could place atoms one by one exactly where we want them. Several decades later Eric Drexler explored the question in detail and concluded - a lot! Although there have been dramatic demonstrations of such technology ­ Eigler's "IBM" spelled out in metal atoms on an atomically smooth surface - very few scientists are pursuing atomic precision. The common view is that we don't need atomically precise structures, at least not beyond molecules.

But manufacturing processes that take advantage of the quantization of matter not only should improve manufacturing precision, they promise to achieve absolute precision. Such processes should be able to make things that are not just very close to identical but that in fact are identical. This will be possible when our fabrication processes are digital; that is when we have processes that either will or won't add an atom or molecule to a specific bonding site. Digital fabrication will replace analog fabrication for the same reasons that digital electronics have replaced analog electronics. But the atomically perfect matter made with these processes - digital matter - will be even more revolutionary. It will be dimensionally perfect and have desirable properties that far exceed anything that can be made today.

This talk will describe efforts to develop a digital fabrication process, the difficulties and successes we have achieved, and what we believe will be possible in the not too distant future.

About the Author:

John Randall

John Randall is President of Zyvex Labs, where he works on nanofabrication technologies and was instrumental in developing and spinning out successful nanotechnology companies Zyvex Technologies and Zyvex Instruments. He also is an Adjunct Professor at UT-Dallas and serves on the External Engineering Advisory Board of the University. Before joining Zyvex, John was with Texas Instruments where he worked in high resolution processing for integrated circuits, MEMS, and quantum effect devices. While at TI, John and the teams he worked with fabricated the first quantum dot diode, developed the first quantum well bipolar transistor, made the first working room temperature quantum integrated circuit, and created the first lateral resonant tunneling diode. Prior to TI, John worked at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory on ion beam and x-ray lithography.

  John earned a BS, MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Houston. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and a Fellow of the Society of the AVS. Among his honors and awards, he was elected a University of Houston Distinguished Engineering Alumnus and was designated a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at Texas Instruments. John is an author of over 97 peer reviewed scientific publications and an inventor named in over 25 issued US Patents.

In his spare time John pursues a life-long affection for [Belgian] beer and [Belgium] chocolate (picked up when he worked at IMEC in Belgium for TI), plays alto sax, programs in C and ­ for additional fun ­ designs and builds large format programmable ink jet painting robots for artists who create pointillist oil paintings with them. He also is a 3rd degree black belt and won several national Judo titles. John is very happily married to his wife of many years, Patrice. They have two adult children, Ashley and Ian.

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