Israel helps to make Georgia a nanotech world center

Hebrew University-developed ‘Nanodumbells’ – gold-tipped nanocrystals which can be used as highly-efficient building blocks for devices.Israeli expertise in nanotechnology is making international waves – reaching all the way to the southern part of the United States. In Georgia, local scientists …

Hebrew University-developed ‘Nanodumbells’ – gold-tipped nanocrystals which can be used as highly-efficient building blocks for devices.Israeli expertise in nanotechnology is making international waves – reaching all the way to the southern part of the United States.

In Georgia, local scientists together with several major technical institutes in Israel are combining state funding and brainpower to create a nanotechnology research center.

Nanotechnology, the creation and use of the very smallest of particles, is on the cutting edge of science, and is expected to help mankind discover cancer at very early stages, improve detection of dangerous gases and aid in repairing gene damage.

Now the state of Georgia, together with Georgia Tech University is investing $81 million to go toward the construction and operation of a world-class nanotechnology research center. With a projected operating date of 2007, the 160,000-square-foot facility will feature 30,000 square feet of clean rooms necessary for the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules. The center would be the most advanced nanotechnology facility in the Southeast, on par with similar facilities planned or under construction at MIT, Cornell, Stanford, and the University of California at Berkeley.

Last month, four of the school’s top officials traveled to Israel for weeklong meetings with their peers at four Israeli universities – The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa; the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot; and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. Their goal was to establish faculty exchange and dual-degree programs that will enhance research efforts on both sides of the globe.

“We want to make Georgia the hub of nanotechnology in the United States,” and “we want to make Israel the center of nanotechnology in the Middle East,” Aviv Ezra, Israel’s deputy consul for the Southeast, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The cooperative effort got off the ground after a conversation between former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue in May 2003. Later last year, Peres publicly called upon Israel and North American communities to invest in nanotechnology and to support the Israel Nanotechnology Trust, established by the government of Israel to secure funding for Israeli scientists working in the field.

“Our victories of yesterday cannot feed our children or give our people jobs. Nanotechnology can become a critical engine of national strength, academic excellence and economic growth for Israel,” he wrote in an open letter to the United Jewish Communities’ General Assembly also signed by Eli Hurvitz, chairman of Teva Pharmaceutical, and Ehud Olmert, minister of industry and trade.

Peres believes the ethnic and religious differences that fuel the Arab-Israeli conflict would be erased by economic vitality in the region. He said nanotechnology “represents Israel’s only real opportunity to successfully secure her future.”

Finding the next big development in nanotechnology is “on the level of discovering gold,” Ezra said.

Nanotechnology has possibilities in the areas of medicine, homeland security and biotechnology. The partnership between Georgia and Israel, Ezra said, has the potential to bring top researchers to the Atlanta area and to generate jobs for Georgians and Israelis.

“We want to make Atlanta the beachhead for Israeli companies in the field,” Uzi Landman, the Israeli-born director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Computational Materials Science who led the Georgia delegation to Israel, told The Jewish Times. Landman said he hopes the academic collaboration between Georgia Tech and Israel will result in start-up ventures.

Landman believes scientists have just begun to scratch the surface with this technology, which he says could start a “second industrial revolution.”

It could reduce waste and make existing materials stronger and cheaper to produce. It could make certain chemical processes, such as producing plastics and fertilizers, much cheaper. That, in turn, could help fight starvation and malnutrition in Third World countries.

“In this time that we live, international and national cooperation is a powerful way to make progress,” Landman told the Constitution Journal.

“For example, it may be possible to make a very small device that could be injected [into the body] and attached to a single cell, and through the membrane inject a drug that will kill the cell,” Landman said.

One breakthrough in nanotechnology that could help actualize Landman’s vision was announced last week in Jerusalem, when researchers at Hebrew University disclose they had for the first time developed ‘Nanodumbells’ – gold-tipped nanocrystals which can be used as highly-efficient building blocks for devices.

The technology, developed by a research group headed by Prof. Uri Banin of the Department of Physical Chemistry and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology of the Hebrew University, is described in an article in the current issue of Science magazine.

The nanodumbells – shaped somewhat like mini-weightlifting bars – offer a solution to problems of building new, nanocrystal transistors, the basic component of computer chips.

The new technology developed by Banin and his team provides the solution to two limiting problems: How, in the manufacturing process, will it be possible to join billions of them together and incorporate them into a single, integrated, electrical circuit? And how does one then establish good electrical contact in order to ensure speedy and faultless channels of communication.

The research team succeeded in attaching gold tips onto nanorods by a simple chemical reaction. The resultant structure resembles a nanodumbbell, in which the central, nanocrystal, semiconductor part of the rod is linked via a strong chemical bond to the gold tips. These nanodumbbells provide strong chemical bonds between the gold and the semiconductor, leading to good electrical connectivity. This provides the path towards solving the problem of wiring the nanocrystals intro electrical circuitry.

The chemical bonding quality of the gold also helps solve the difficulties involved in manufacturing simultaneously up to billions of circuits. By adding to the nanodumbbell solution specific ‘linker’ molecules, the gold tips are attracted to each other, thus creating self-assembling chain structures of nanocrystals, linked end-to-end.

This strategy can serve as the basis for future manufacturing that will connect billions of nanorods to nanoelectronic circuitry. It is also possible to create other shapes, such as tetrapods, in which four arms expand from a central unit, making gold-tipped ‘anchor’ points for different forms of self-assembly and wiring. This development will speed up the integration of semiconductor nanorods and tetrapods into real-world nanoelectronic applications