Sunday, November 12, 2006

CIAR Nanoelectronics workshop

Blogging from the scenic Calgary airport, as I wait for my flight back to Houston. I've been attending a very fun nanoelectronics workshop in Banff run by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. The CIAR is kind of an institute-without-walls that spans Canada. They have seven (I think) sections, each of which funds some research. One of these sections is Nanoelectronics, and the workshop this weekend was very good. Some highlights of the talks:
  • Ted Sargent at Toronto is making optoelectronic devices using semiconductor nanocrystals. His group has succeeded in getting nice surface passivation of PbS nanocrystals, such that they get good photoconductive response in a solution-deposited film of these things. Because the bandgap of the nanocrystals is so small (about 400 meV), they can use these in the mid-IR. In an impressive demo, they took a readout chip for a conventional silicon CCD camera, coated it with their PbS nanocrystals, and voila: instant visible-to-midIR video camera. Neat!
  • Supriyo Datta gave a nice talk about the general problem of modeling transport through a system that couples not just to its contacts, but also to the environment. As a story-telling device, he framed the discussion in terms of Maxwell's Demon: can one use the spin-selective transmission of a certain type of barrier (containing paramagnetic impurities) as a way of extracting work from the contacts? This is a solid-state gedanken version of Feyman's ratchet-and-pawl. Unsurprisingly, one can't beat the second law of thermodynamics. You can extract some work from the contacts, but at the cost of increasing the entropy of the barrier. If the barrier is cooled to allow work to be continuously extracted, what you've really done is set up a heat engine running on the temperature difference between the contacts and the barrier. I know this isn't a very coherent summary; the talk was infinitely more lucid.
  • Several nice talks about charge transport through molecules. Besides me, there were: Heiko Weber talking about his break junction systems; Latha Venkataraman talking about her break junction systems; Mark Ratner talking about charge transport in DNA; Nicolas Agrait talking about transport through 1d chains of Au atoms; and Philip Kim talking about graphene and nanotubes.
  • Mark Reed showed some interesting results on top-down fabrication and surface functionalization of Si nanowires for integrated sensors.
  • Eli Yablonovitch had some thought-provoking points about nanoelectronics and what we should all really be working on. I told him I wouldn't blog about this until he got it written up, so you'll hear more about this from me once it shows up on the arxiv.
Overall a very good meeting, though I regret not bringing hiking boots or having enough time to go skiing in the gorgeous Canadian Rockies.

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