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Chemistry and Polymers

As it stands right now, nanotechnology owes a lot to the field of solid-state chemistry and polymer chemistry.  Both are essential in synthesizing nanoscale structures and devices. 

Solid State Chemistry

This field is responsible for synthesizing materials in a solid form with tailored physical, electronic, and chemical properties.  There are a variety of synthesis routes available for chemists when it comes to nanoscale structures.  All chemical synthesis routes are a bottom-up approach compared to the semiconductor industry’s top-down approach.  This will be discussed later.

Most synthesis techniques are extremely dangerous and sensitive to the environment.  Visiting one involves passing through several clean rooms, wearing hairnets, and possibly a full suit.  A speck of dust may seem inconsequential to you, but when you’re trying to fabricate something with nanoscale features you can’t have any dust in the environment.

Two common solid-state synthesis routes are Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) and Electrodeposition (ED).  One advanced route to realizing future materials involves what is known as self-assembly.

With CVD, you essentially spray a volatile chemical mix into a chamber.  The apparatus must be set up to take advantage of various thermodynamic properties and chemical reactions in order for a nanoscale device to be created.  Things like nanowires, nanotubes, and Buckyballs can be made with CVD.

Electrodeposition works with electrical potentials rather than chemical potentials.  Most of the newer nanoscale grain-size metals are created with electrodeposition and careful control of dopants.  Reverse electrodeposition, a form of corrosion, can be used to create nanoporous materials that also have interesting prosperities.

One interesting approach to synthesis of nanoscale materials is self-assembly.  By taking advantage of relative attraction forces between molecules, it is possible to create larger networks of molecules to ultimately form a useful material.

Polymer Chemistry

Polymers mostly play an auxiliary role in the formation of nanoscale materials.  In some instances, like the core-corona synthesis route, polymerization reactions can actually create uniform distributions of quantum dots.  However, the best thing about polymers is their ability to be tuned with functional side groups.

It’s possible, for instance, to create a matrix of an electrically active polymer embedded with semiconductor quantum dots.  The polymer can either remove or add charge from the quantum dots to ’pump’ a quantum dot laser matrix.  Sound nutty?  It’s already been done!