This article highlights key points of a Korea's 10-year plan in nanotechnology domain. The hope is that newly emerging nanotechnology field will offer a breakthrough opportunity to upgrade Korea's position as a global industrial power. The goal of this 10-year, $1.5 billion plan is to foster technological advances in nanotechnology that can establish Korea as a world leader in this emerging class of technologies. Under the Korea Nanotechnology Initiative, the government has launched several projects under the banner of the Frontier Program. Another project, the Center for Nanostructured Materials, organizes a research program aimed at developing nanostructured materials for structural applications, environmental and energy applications, and information technologies using both top 2 down and bottom-up processes. Nanoelectronics devices such as carbon nanotube-based transistors are being investigated as terabit memory devices. Korean facilities are conducting research on next-generation storage systems based on scanning probe microscopy and perpendicular magnetic recording to learn more about terabit storage density. Engineers claim that to compete in the new digital economy, it is critically important for a nation such as Korea to be able to manufacture and engineer devices down to nanometre dimensions.
It's hard to remember now, but the Republic of Korea was once a largely agricultural nation. In the 1960s, about a decade after the ravages of the Korean War, the per capita income in Korea was just $79 a year. The Korean economy was one of the meekest in Asia and not at all a force in the world.
That has all changed, of course. Korea has witnessed unprecedented economic growth over the past four decades. The country has transformed itself from agricultural to industrial and now to an information society. The economy is now the world's 12th largest with an annual per capita income of$18,400. And the words "made in Korea" are recognized as a mark of excellence around the world. So much has changed in so little time.
Much of the current Korean economy is driven by exports in such areas as electronics, automobiles, heavy machinery, and materials. Korea's exports, totaling $330 billion, amount to 2.8 percent of world trade. Electronics makes up more than a third of exports and is by far the strongest sector, with very advanced technologies, such as semiconductor memory devices, cellular phones, flat panel displays, and mobile wireless Internet access products.
Capitalizing on its position in information and telecommunications technology, Korea a few years ago began a national effort to invest in developing nanotechnology as a major engine for future economic growth. Korea is going all out to lead the world in nanotechnology research and development, and in related products and industries. The hope is that this newly emerging field will offer a breakthrough opportunity to upgrade Korea's position as a global industrial power.
At the core of the Korean nanotechnology drive is the Korea Nanotechnology Initiative, which was initiated in 2001. The goal of this 10-year, $1.5 billion plan is to foster technological advances in nanotechnology that can establish Korea as a world leader in this emerging class of technologies.
Under the Korea Nanotechnology Initiative, the government has launched a number of projects under the banner of the Frontier Program. For example, it has established the Center for Tera-Level Nanodevices, charged with developing nanoelectronics devices with trillion-bit memory density capable of processing a trillion bits of information per second.
Another project, the Center for Nanostructured Materials, organizes a research program aimed at developing nanostructured materials for structural applications, environmental and energy applications, and information technologies using both top2 down and bottomup processes. And the Center for Nanoscale Mechatronics and Manufacturing is creating new means for manufacturing on the nanometer scale, including fabricating nanoscale equipment and developing nanoscale control systems. The aim is to have the ability to manufacture nanoscale and nanotechnology-enhanced commercial products. In addition to the launching of R&D projects, five nanofabrication facilities and related support facilities have been established by the Korean government to provide one-stop service from idea generation to manufacturing, developing process equipment with manufacturers and training nanotechnology specialists with hands-on experience to facilitate commercialization.
Nanoelectronics devices such as carbon nanotubebased transistors are being investigated as terabit memory devices. Korean facilities are conducting research on next-generation storage systems based on scanning probe microscopy and perpendicular magnetic recording to learn more about terabit storage density. The research centers established by the initiative are also performing research into nanophotonics for optical communication and nanoelectromechanical systems that have sensors, actuators, and processors all on one integrated chip.
The first five-year phase of the program was completed recently, and it's time to take stock. One result has been an explosion in nanotechnology-related journal publications by Korean-based researchers, from 408 papers in 2001 to 1,431 papers in 2005. Indeed, Korea ranks fifth in the world, both in published nanotechnology research and in nanotechnology patents filed (if one counts the European Union as a single entity). And the number of nanotechnology- related companies in Korea has increased from 78 in 2001 to 214 in 2005, including 126 venture firms.
Research sponsored by the initiative has led to some real breakthroughs. For instance, the Carbon Nanotube Research Laboratory at Sungkyunkwan University has successfully developed processes to synthesize, purify, and modify tailored carbon nanotubes. Such nanotubes can be used in a wide variety of applications, from field emission displays and nanoscale transistors to chemical and biological sensors and nanocomposite materials.
On the more fundamental side, researchers at the Center for Science in Nanometer Scale at Seoul National University have successfully grown a functionalized molecular wire that opens ways to fabricate active one dimensional devices such as field effect transistors, which can have switching and memory functions on a molecular level. In the area of nanoscale metrology, Park Systems has developed one of the world's best ultraprecision noncontact atomic force microscopy tools-capable of measuring smface features down to 0.1 nm.
Consumer products have also received attention. For example, c011U11ercial companies have developed silver-coated home appliances with superior cleaning and sterilization properties at the nanoscale. Small and medium-size firms are working on using engineered nanoscale material to improve such everyday products as toothpaste, soap, and paint, among others. Samsung Electronics, a world leader in memory chips through doubling density of non-volatile memory every year, successfully developed 32-gigabyte NAND flash memory with charge trap technology that relies on designed features measured in tens of nanometers.
During the first phase of the initiative, Korea has reached parity with most other advanced nations. According to Lux Research, the international research and advisory firm, Korea now ranks fourth in terms of national nanotechnology competitiveness, behind only the United States, Japan, and Germany.
Employment in the nanotechnology sector has increased from approximately 1,000 in 2000 (including jobs that were in related research fields) to nearly 4,000 in 2004. Nanotechnology-related departments at colleges also jumped from three to 38 over the same span. Even so, there is a projected shortage in research and development workers. By some accounts, Korea will need some 20,000 nanotechnology specialists by 2025-twice the number that Korean colleges and universities are expected to produce.
The long-term vision of the Korea Nanotechnology Initiative is to secure technological competitiveness to join the top three nations by 2015. The total commercial impact is projected to be $265 billion.
In the second phase, which is now under way, a critical assessment will be made to identify and expand comparatively advantageous fields that can have strong impact on existing Korean industries, such as semiconductors, displays, automobiles, and textiles. In addition, the program will take steps to create new nanotechnology markets in robotics, ubiquitous devices, food and medical science, and alternative energy, primarily by promoting synergy through the fusion of existing information, bio, and environmental technologies as well as open international collaborations.
What's more, the Korean government is expected to designate and support institutions for both undergraduate education and graduate-level research with emphasis on international exchange arid cooperative programs.
Many experts have predicted that we are approaching an era of digital convergence and ubiquitous computing. In such an age, ambient sensing, wireless communications, and information processing and storage functions are coming together on ever-more-compact mobile devices. To compete in this new digital economy, it is critically important for a nation such as Korea to be able to manufacture and engineer devices down to nanometer dimensions. This cannot be done, however, without developing the basic enabling technology.
Of course, there will be many technical and commercial challenges along the way. But Korea is already on the path to take up those challenges