ADT Eyes Electronics and Sensors for Its Nanoscale Thin-Film Diamond
Advanced Diamond Technologies makes diamond one carbon atom at a time. ADTâs UNCDÂŽ (for ultra-nanocrystalline diamond) is born of U.S. Department of Energy research and uses a nanometer-scale process to make a continuous film comprised of the smallest grains of diamond known. UNCD, consisting of diamond grains that are 3-5 nm in diameter, has uses in wireless communication, bio-sensors and nano-manufacturing. âWe turn 50 cents of natural gas into $500 of diamond by rearranging the carbon atoms,â said ADTâs president Neil Kane.
Advanced Diamond Technologies, based in Romeoville, Illinois, makes thin films of diamond one carbon atom at a time. The result could be more powerful cellphones, superior imaging at the nanoscale and more accurate and sensitive biosensors.
ADTâs UNCD films are comprised of diamond grains as small as 3-5 nanometers in diameter. The company calls this material âultra-nanocrystalline diamondâ and has trademarked the term as UNCDÂŽ. The diamond manufacturing process is born of research from the U.S. Department of Energyâs Argonne National Laboratory. And in fact, the two technical co-founders of ADT are either current or former researchers at Argonne.
Nano World News spoke with ADT president and business co-founder Neil Kane about exciting possibilities in store for the companyâs UNCD, and previews the discussion Kane will deliver during Nanotech 2007.
Kane says ADTâs nanoscale approach to diamond synthesis could hold the key to unlocking many types of industrial markets for diamond thin films. âIn the past, most diamond films were tricky to make, and difficult to work with. So, even if projects did work, there was little commercialization because it was very difficult to manufacture enough reliably.â ADTâs approach attacks head-on many of these barriers to broader use of industrial diamond filmsâ purity, reliable supply, and cost.
Because UNCD has nanometer sized grains, it is mirror smooth without polishing. This, plus its large area deposition process, makes UNCD affordable. âWith our process, we turn 50 cents of natural gas into $500 of diamond by rearranging the carbon atoms, and we donât require the post-deposition polishing that has characterized most diamond films,â Kane told NWN.
UNCDâs traits â smooth, pure, uniform, and low-cost â are attracting growing interest, especially among companies in communications and electronics that use thin-films. Makers of cellphones and sensors are tops on ADTâs list of interested firms. A short explanation about the âscience of diamondâ reveals why.
The Science of Nano-Diamond (ADTâs UNCD)
âEveryone knows diamonds are the hardest, most precious materials known. But many are unaware that diamond is low-friction, highly-insulating, repels water, and is bio-inert. And once you can predictably manufacture this kind of high-grade diamond, the doors can really fly open. Not only do we synthesize diamond, but we microfabricate it to turn it into devices such as resonators, switches and probes.â
ADTâs work, which arose from basic research Argonne, followed a simple thesis: âPlatforms for synthesizing diamond have been immature, and that meant that diamond films were either of low quality or unreliable. Prior to [Argonneâs] work, making synthesized diamond was tricky and the end product could often be difficult to work with,â Kane said. âOur focus is to make the properties of diamond more predictable and guarantee a reliable supply.â
Armed with the basic science and the business-model, ADT at present is pursuing several opportunities:
Wireless/RF Devices - Offering diamond-coated thin-films to the RF/Micro-Electrical Mechanical Systems (MEMS) firms to improve wireless devices.
Inside every wireless/RF device there is a tuning fork that resonates at a specific frequency. âDiamond has the highest acoustic velocity of any known material, so if you can make a resonator (tuning fork) from diamond, it will perform at least twice as good as any other material and be very stable in different environments,â Kane explained. ADT is seeking to tap that advantage to give cellphones more power, higher encryption rates, and make them even more energy-efficient, he added. In fact, ADT is already working with DARPA on such an application for UNCD in military radios.
Biosensors â In biosensors, diamond can offer this boost to processing, but has another important advantage. âDiamond could extend the function and flexibility of bio-sensors in a couple of ways,â Kane said, including the ability to let a sensor detect multiple agents at the same time, and also let a sensor be re-used once an agent has been detected. âTodayâs sensors are tuned to detect only one agent and once these sensors have been used once, itâs done: You canât reuse them. Weâve found diamond will actually make sensors more robust and reusable.â
More About ADT
At present ADT has 12 employees, but has momentum. âWe are still a young company, but we have the science and the process, and now many of the business-cases are becoming clear. So, we are actively in the transition right now from an R&D company to a true product company,â Kane said. Within the coming year, Kane expects ADT to announce at least two product families based on UNCD, in addition to its award-winning UNCD-coated silicon wafers (DoSiâ˘ for âdiamond on siliconâ) which were announced in 2006.
ADT was formed in late 2003 to commercialize the UNCD technology, which was first discovered and developed at the U.S. Department of Energyâs Argonne National Laboratory. ADT is the exclusive licensee to Argonneâs portfolio of patents for synthesizing and using UNCD. In addition to the Department of Energy, ADT has received generous support from the National Science Foundation and DARPA. In 2006, ADT received Frost & Sullivanâs âProduct Innovation of the Yearâ award as well as being a runner-up for the Wall Street Journalâs âTechnology Innovation Awardâ. In 2007, ADT was named a âTechnology Pioneerâ by the World Economic Forum.
For more information, visit: www.thindiamond.com.