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Nanoscale technology deal a tight fit
December 2009
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author


SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Agilent Technologies Inc. describes itself as the world's premier measurement company with leadership positions in communications, electronics, life sciences and chemical analysis. Now the $5.8 billion revenue giant will collaborate with Stanford University in a research program designed to explore a new class of nanoscale devices using a combination of scanning probe microscopy (SPM) and atomic layer deposition (ALD). The research will enable the rapid prototyping and characterization of a variety of nanoscale devices for a wide range of applications.  
"The novel nanostructures will be fabricated and characterized in situ in this unique SPM-ALD tool in order to rapidly prototype a wide variety of next-generation devices," says Fritz Prinz, professor and chairman of mechanical engineering at Stanford University. "The SPM-ALD tool will enable us to build devices which take advantage of the quantum confinement effects present at small length scales that could not be accessed with traditional lithography methods. These devices can only be built with manufacturing tools possessing extraordinary spatial resolution."  
Agilent entered the nanotech field about four years ago, explains Jeff Rozner, the company's director of strategy for nanotechnology business, with the purchase of an SPM company. At about the same time, Agilent exited the semiconductor business.  
"As a measurement company, nanotechnology is a logical fit," Rozner notes, since its focus is on the measurement of various properties of polymers, surface coatings, tools and surface mediated biological processes. Prinz was a long-term customer of a company Agilent acquired, Rozner adds. Since then, Agilent has provided Prinz with loaner equipment and Rozner has joined Stanford's nanoscale advisory board.  
The new program focuses on the integration of ALD, a thin-film technique capable of sub-nanometer precision in thickness, with the nanometer lateral resolution of SPM in a drive to extend the capability of scanning probe techniques to prototyping and device fabrication. Historically, performance of electronic devices has been limited by traditional manufacturing methods, such as optical and electron beam lithography, which are not likely to deliver feature resolution significantly below 20 nm.  
The quantum mechanical effects of electron confinement in devices 10 nm or smaller result in phenomena qualitatively different than those seen in larger devices. Rozner explains the phenomena with the observation that surface area per unit volume increases as physical size decreases (which is why the metabolic rate of small mammals is so much faster than ours). With geometries in all three dimensions of less than 10 nm, surface effects of this quantum confinement creates an entirely new paradigm for electronic devices, he notes.  
From an electronic standpoint, it's easy to observe, but tough to explain, Rozner says. "It's like particles in a box," he explains.  When you squeeze down the electronics, they have fewer places to live. Changes in energy states result, which are important in photovoltaic applications. 
"You create both freedoms and constraints," he adds, "that change chemical potential and reactivity."   
Asked about the commercial potential of Agilent's nanotech business, Rozner says that "triple digit millions" is the target. He notes that the sector of one of Agilent's fastest growing and that it has continued to grow year-on-year during the current recession.

Agilent seeks faster life science research workflow with Eurofins MWG Operon technology purchase
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Seeking to create a new solution that enables mid-range multiplex screening for the life science research market, Agilent Technologies Inc. announced Nov. 16 its purchase of DNA services provider Eurofins MWG Operon's MassCode Tag technology. Agilent said it will use MassCode Tag to develop new research products for pathogen identification, leveraging its strength in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and mass spectroscopy.  
The purchase, made for an undisclosed sum, includes the MassCode trademarks and intellectual property, including four families of patents that are valid in 34 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and China. Under the agreement, Eurofins MWG Operon will continue to supply the core component for the new products. MassCode Tags—small molecules, each with a unique molecular weight—can be used to screen for specific pathogens that may be present in a biological sample. In MassTag PCR, an application developed by investigators at Columbia University, individual tags are attached to DNA primers that correspond to microbial sequences. The primers are then used to amplify nucleic acid isolated from biological sample using PCR. The tags are released by applying UV irradiation, and mass spectroscopy is then used to identify the corresponding tags.  
According to the companies, the mass spectroscopy detection technique is highly multiplexed, faster and more sensitive than traditional detection technologies utilized for PCR analysis.  
"This technology addresses a key need by reducing the cost to screen for a large number of pathogens that might be present in a given sample and will accelerate the life science research workflow," says Gustavo Salem, vice president and general manager of Agilent's Biological Systems division.
Code: E120914



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