New Center for Nanoscience Innovation for Defense transfers knowledge from universities to industry

December 10, 2002

Santa Barbara, Calif.-- The Center for Nanoscience Innovation for Defense (CNID) has been created to facilitate the rapid transition of research innovation in the nanosciences into applications for the defense sector. U.S. government allocations of $13.5 million are being shared equally by three University of California institutions: Santa Barbara (UCSB), Los Angeles (UCLA), and Riverside (UCR), and a second increment is anticipated that will ultimately bring total funding to more than $20 million over three years. CNID is sponsored by two federal agencies: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Defense MicroElectronics Activity (DMEA).

UCSB Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor David Awschalom spearheaded efforts to establish the new center whose participants, in addition to the three universities, include the National Labs (particularly Los Alamos), and 10 industrial partners (Boeing, DuPont, Hewlett-Packard, Hughes Research, Motorola, NanoSys, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Scientific, Raytheon, and TRW).

The University of California at Santa Barbara and at Los Angeles joined together two years ago to form the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI). Under the terms of that initiative fostered by Gov. Gray Davis, the State of California is matching every $2 of non-State support with $1 in State funding up to $100 million. The CNID monies qualify for the State match. So the California NanoSystems Institute at Santa Barbara and Los Angeles benefits 1.5 times the federal allocation.

The State money has been used principally to build two CNSI research facilities, one at Santa Barbara and one at Los Angeles. The CNID money is being used to equip the facilities with state-of-the-art high-tech instrumentation, and for graduate fellowships, that will enable the University of California campuses to compete for and to attract the best graduate students worldwide to advance nanoscience and nanotechnology research both in universities and also in industrial laboratories. Those students are intended not only to be the nanoscience university researchers of the future but also the nanotechnology talent for high-tech American businesses.

According to Awschalom, the motivation for CNID arose from discussions in federal research agencies for science and defense, which recognized a problem emerging with the diminution of basic research in the nation's major industrial laboratories, such as Bell Labs and IBM. The latter is, for instance, planning to sell its Data Storage Division--once the focus for much basic science and technology research--to Hitachi.

"Innovation in American industry," Awschalom points out, "has been intimately connected to discoveries in basic science. With the disappearance of basic science research in industrial laboratories, the U.S. government is concerned about the source of future innovation. So it was decided as an experiment to back a group of universities where faculty were experienced both in working with industry and also doing fundamental science in order to form a network with companies to keep them informed of the latest developments in science and technology. It's all about enabling America's businesses--contractors for defense technology--to keep abreast of current information.

"Keeping current is not only a matter of information," said Awschalom, "but also of talent. The companies want to attract the very best science and technology students and hire them. CNID will offer unique opportunities for graduate student researchers to gain industrial research experience through collaborative projects and summer internships. In particular, we will join with the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and North Dakota State University in promoting exchange programs in nanotechnology.

"CNID will act as a conduit," said Awschalom, "through which industrial partners can recruit highly trained students in the areas of nanoscale science and engineering, and will allow students to obtain contact with 'real world' research and development in the private sector.

"This experiment extends to developing people who are doing science and technology of interest to many companies. Broadly speaking, the experiment focuses on knowledge transfer in the form of information and human expertise to U.S. companies--knowledge particularly relevant to national defense," said Awschalom.

Stu Wolf, the DARPA program manager, points out his desire "that this experiment provide a major focus for research collaborations well beyond the initial partners. The cost of establishing a first-rate research infrastructure is beyond the reach of many institutions that have excellent researchers. It is essential," he said, "that centers of excellence be established that provide scientists around the country with both world-class facilities and collaborators. I hope this new institution provides a model for the development of other centers so that the U.S. can maintain its scientific and technological leadership far into the foreseeable future."

CNID Research Focus at UCSB
The CNID research program aims at understanding and thereby controlling nanometer-scale systems for advanced technology. The prefix "nano-" means "one billionth," so a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. The DNA molecule is two nanometers wide--roughly 1,000 times smaller than a blood cell or 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

At Santa Barbara CNID research will focus on four areas: spintronics and quantum information processing, nanoscale electronics in semiconductors and molecules, nanophotonics for communication and computation, and nanomechanical sensors and devices.

Spintronics, Quantum Information Processing
Awschalom, who is the director of UCSB's Center for Spintronics and Quantum Information Processing, leads a highly successful research effort, funded by DARPA, that focuses on understanding and controlling electron spin in semiconducting materials. Just like the charge currents that flow in ordinary electronics, spin currents may form the foundation for a new type of "spintronics" that researchers hope will improve speed in devices for information processing including hard disk drives and nonvolatile RAM.

Another approach to spin-based optoelectronics focuses on another kind of material--polymers. To explore that approach, UCSB physicist Alan Heeger, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of conducting polymers, is exploring this area along with Riverside physicists and chemists.

Particle spin is also the basis for quantum-computing paradigms. The binary bit of conventional computing--either 0 or 1--corresponds in the spin quantum-computing paradigm to a quantum bit consisting of a particle spin that is either up or down. What is different and what makes quantum computation a potentially richer computational approach is that the electron spin can be in a superposition of spin up and spin down. Therefore, a quantum bit can encode not just one piece of information (for instance whether a light is on or off), but much more, like the light's color, intensity, etc.

Nanoscale Electronics in Semiconductors and Molecules
One example of research in the second area builds on an effort at UCSB called Frequency-Agile Materials for Electronics (FAME), which incorporates research by Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professors Robert York and Umesh Mishra and Materials Professor James Speck. Funding for FAME is ending, but CNID enables a continuation of the research, which focuses in one key instance on the dielectric constant of materials. The dielectric constant characterizes the response of a material to external electromagnetic fields.

One of the things that limit the scale for today's electronics is the value of the dielectric constant of the material that acts as the insulator between two conductors at the base of transistors. When this material is made very thin, electrons start to tunnel through the material, so that it is no longer an insulator. The limit at which the material fails to insulate determines the size to which a transistor can be shrunk. And the size to which transistors can be shrunk limits the number of transistors that can be fitted into an integrated circuit on a chip.

Making the insulating material thinner means changing the dielectric constant of the material. The FAME researchers have found materials with dielectric constants 400 to 500 times greater than in existing systems. And they also have found materials whose dielectric constants can be changed at microwave frequencies. Their findings have interesting implications not only for scaling down today's electronics, but also for innovating microwave electronics and thereby radar and cell phone technology.

Nanophotonics for Communication and Computation
An example of nanophotonics research pertains to quantum cryptography, which uses the uncertainty principle to avoid eavesdropping. UCSB researchers led by Atac Imamoglu of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and of Physics, and Pierre Petroff and Evelyn Hu, both of ECE and Materials, have built a device from which the emission of a single photon (particle of light) can be repeatedly detected. Hu is the science director of the California NanoSystems Institute at Santa Barbara.

That ability to produce a single photon has prepared the way for a whole new approach to communicating information secretly such that the information is unconditionally secure. Quantum cryptography differs from other code schemes in that the attempt by a third party to intercept a code's key itself alters the key. It is as if the very act of listening in on a conversation makes the eavesdropper known.

The idea now being implemented in test beds around Boston and Washington entails sending encrypted messages over the public Internet and the encryption key over a separate quantum information network that will transport single photons whose quantum states would be altered by intermediate eavesdropping between source and receptor.

Quantum cryptography has obvious national security implications in terms of electronic spying detection. Less obvious perhaps is the wide applicability to transmission of financial information: banking, currency exchange, credit card transactions. Quantum cryptography seems the antidote to the cyber brand of spying, terrorism, and crime.

Another group of nanophotonics researchers, including ECE Professors John Bowers and Dan Blumenthal, are engaged in building the equivalent of an electronic circuit with light. They have already made simple nanophotonic circuits, and are at a stage analogous to that of electronic-circuit pioneers in the 1950s and 1960s. The key concept for technological innovation is that nanophotonic circuits work at a scale where the wires of electronic circuits essentially stop working.

Nanomechanical Sensors and Devices
The fourth research focus includes an effort to control mechanics with phonons, which pertain to the vibrational modes of a solid or crystal, and are quantized like particles, just as occurs with light. UCSB researchers led by Andrew Cleland of the Physics Department, are attempting to translate many of the quantum devices and systems developed using light into analogous phononic counterparts: ultrahigh resolution acoustic microscopes (with imaging resolutions in the nanoscale) and ultrahigh quality phononic cavities (with selectivity of better than a part per million). These researchers even envision the potential for a phonon laser. Applications for these types of systems include frequency-selective and frequency-agile mechanical systems that could serve in radar and telecommunications. Cleland also is serving as CNID co-director at UCSB.

These examples of research are representative of the four target CNID areas at UCSB, but the areas themselves include many more research projects. What the examples do show especially taken in conjunction with the much larger research agenda at the California NanoSystems Institute is the pace and scope of discovery and innovation in nanoscience and nanoengineering. CNID exists as an experiment to bring that knowledge and human expertise to America's industries for the purpose of defense.
[Note: Professor Awschalom can be reached at 805-893-2121 or by e-mail For information about CNID efforts at UCLA, contact Professor Eli Yablonovitch at 310-206-2240 or by e-mail; and at Riverside Professor Robert C. Haddon at 909-787-2044 or by e-mail The Riverside press release is available through links from . To download a graphic depicting nanoscale in comparison to micro- and millimeter scales and a photograph of UCSB's ultrafast measurement laboratory, go to this press release at and follow the links to the high resolution version; for help downloading contact ]

University of California, Santa Barbara - Engineering

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