2/2012

Nanonetworks - the next great leap forward?

Nanomachines are currently the subject of intense scientific interest worldwide due to their potential applications in biomedical, environmental and energy engineering, security technology and industrial process control.

"Basic research and some prototypes
for applications"

Prof. Akyildiz

One of the world's leading experts in nanonetworks, Professor Ian F. Akyildiz joins TUT as Visiting FiDiPro Professor from 2012 to 2016.

What are your own expectations of nanonetwork research at TUT? What are the ambitions and goals on your agenda?

"We'll be launching several new projects to be funded by Finnish government agencies, the European (EU) community and several companies. I'm also looking forward to working closely with several other universities and companies. We're planning to set up a large team to conduct basic fundamental research and create some prototypes for applications as well as for business/start up opportunities.

In addition, we'll develop new classes on nanonetworking that will enrich the education offered at TUT. This centre will attract several new researchers, graduate students, visitors and should become one of TUT's flagship centres. We'll produce several Master and PhD students in this emerging field which will help Finland continue on its path to becoming one of the leading countries in nanotechnology."

What were the contacts and phases which led you to TUT in Tampere?

"I first met Prof. Yevgeni Koucheryavy 2003 and decided to mentor him. The last nine years he flourished and not only became a Full Professor at TUT at a relatively young age but also had significant contributions in the research field. Last year he told me about the FiDiPro opportunity in Finland and asked me to work together in order to create a research centre on nanonetworking at TUT."

What are your first impressions of TUT as a research community?

"During my visit to TUT, I met several professors from different departments. They all are open to collaboration as we need their support and collaboration because our centre will be based on interdisciplinary research."

The devices must be capable of communicating with their internal components, each other and the environment to work properly.

Given their tiny size and unique properties, many fundamental communication network requirements and functionalities, such as network architectures, protocols and algorithms, must be rethought.

That is exactly what a new research group, which will be established by Professor Ian F. Akyildiz from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, and Professor Yevgeni Koucheryavy from Tampere University of Technology (TUT), aims to do.

Aiming for the top

Ian F. Akyildiz joined TUT this autumn as a FiDiPro Professor. He is one of the world's foremost authorities on nanonetworks. In addition to his own group at Georgia Tech, Prof. Akyildiz supervises a research group based at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.

Nanonetworks will be an exciting new addition to TUT's research portfolio. The new research group will consist of doctoral students and work in close collaboration with the other groups headed by Akyildiz and with eminent research organizations in the USA, UK, Russia and Singapore.

Inspiration from radio engineering and biology

The new research group will approach the topic from two angles and investigate not only nanomachines based on electromagnetic communication but also bio-inspired nanomachines that mimic the functions of cells.

Conventional radio systems are based on the reception and transmission of electromagnetic waves. However, a nanoscale radio transmitter needs a nanoscale antenna, and the size of the antenna is directly related to the wavelength of the signal it is designed to transmit or receive. The frequencies used in nanoantennas fall into the terahertz (THz) range and are not commonly used in radio communications. They generate a power output that is hundreds of times stronger than those used by current local area and mobile networks.

Molecular communication is an interdisciplinary research area that spans physics, biotechnology and communication engineering. It is based on the idea that biosensors mimic naturally occurring mechanisms whereby cells store energy and communicate with their environment.

In addition to the size of the antenna, another major bottleneck is constant power supply. Solutions have been proposed that would allow, for example, nanosensors circulating in the bloodstream to harvest and store energy from their environment.

Challenges ahead

Current technologies are not up to the task quite yet. The physics of nanoscale materials is an extremely challenging field. In addition, more research needs to be done to understand the behaviour of radio waves when they are transmitted through different media in the terahertz range.

 

Did you know? 

Nanomachines are functional nano-precise devices and they are expected to have the ability to sense, compute, actuate and harvest energy from the environment. Moreover, their interconnection into networks, termed nanonetworks, is expected to overcome their individual limitations and enable collaborative efforts.

These properties, together with their very restricted size and the unprecedented sensing accuracy of nano-components, make nanomachines interesting for applications where ubiquitous sensing/actuation and small form-factor are needed. Intra-body sensor networks, smart drug delivery systems, surveillance networks against biological and chemical attacks are among the potential applications that encourage research into nanomachines.

Nanotechnology has the potential to completely reshape the way we interact with the world. Nanotechnological tools will enable the control of matter at the molecular and atomic scale. As a consequence, nanotechnology-enabled devices will have the ability to sense and operate with unprecedented precision. This precision has the potential to revolutionize many disciplines, such as medicine, energetics and electronics. Nanotechnology-enabled drugs are envisioned to be able to control the cell genetic code, while nano-materials are studied to seek ways to harvest renewable energy and produce more efficient circuits and processing chips.


Text: Martti Tammisto
Photo: Petri Laitinen

 


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