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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists
Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.
The emerging field of nanotechnology takes advantage of the exceptional properties of materials in the intersection between the molecular and macroscopic world. Nanomix is using such properties to develop nano-scale electronic devices for use as chemical sensors that offer exquisite levels of sensitivity and selectivity. The technology is based on the integration of silicon substrates, carbon nanotubes and molecular recognition layers. Single-walled carbon nanotubes are grown on silicon substrates to form a conducting channel connecting metal leads in a resistor or transistor configuration. This arrangement functions as a sensor transducer and is the platform for sensor development. A molecular recognition layer is added to provide specific sensitivity to chemical or biological species of interest. Interactions between the recognition layer and the species result in a measurable change in the electrical characteristics of the nanotube transducers. The use of single wall carbon nanotubes as transducers offers three significant advantages: 1) the structure is small, approximately one to two orders of magnitude smaller than fabricated conducting channels, 2) every atom of the nanotube is at the surface in intimate contact with it’s environment, and 3) carbon chemistry is robust and is compatible with the chemistry used in the recognition layer. These attributes enable the development of sensors capable of single molecule sensitivity over the widest possible variety of analytes in both air and liquid environments. Fabrication of individual devices, while challenging, does not constitute the basis of a product. The Company has pioneered a device architecture that allows wafer level device production using a combination of proprietary nanotube-silicon integration and silicon CMOS manufacturing technologies. Nanomix is currently producing nanotube transducers on 4-inch silicon wafers, each containing more than 20,000 active devices, at its Emeryville, California laboratory, and the engineering team is in the process of establishing a fabrication line at the Company location.
Nanoelectronic sensors will be a disruptive force in many lucrative commercial markets. Nanomix will bring the advantages of nanoelectronic sensors – small size, low power consumption and low cost – to bear in markets where competing products cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per installed sensor. Examples include medical diagnostics, leak detection in oil refineries, indoor air quality sensing in school and office buildings, and chemical detection in drinking water.
While Nanomix has defined the short-term market entry point as chemical sensors, the Company’s vision is to create bio-inspired sensing devices using nanotechnology. It intends to duplicate elements of the human sensory system in the form of an artificial electronic nose, tongue, and eye. Similarly, nano-biosensing can be used to create elements of an artificial immune system. Just as in human sensory systems, nanosensors convert the presence of analytes, light or bio-molecules to an electronic signal that is relayed to an information analysis and storage medium
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