Imaging the Future: Nanotronics Imaging on Google Connected Classroom


Nanotronics Imaging CEO Matthew Putman on Google Classroom

Dr. Matthew Putman, CEO of Nanotronics Imaging, shared his excitement about advanced microscope systems with students during a recent Google Classroom event.

Nanotronics Imaging recently used Google Connected Classroom to introduce the world of industrial and medical microscopy to American students.

It was a unique opportunity for the students who are tomorrow’s scientists and business leaders to explore the future of nanotechnology.

“We were excited to partner with Google Connected Classroom to let the kids of America explore the wonderful world of microscopy and the future of nanotechnology,” says Matthew Putman, CEO of Nanotronics Imaging. “We need more kids involved in STEM (Science Technology Engineering, and  Math) curricula because these science-based professions are the future of America.”

Google Connected Classrooms is a Google initiative that helps educators link with organizations that can provide an interesting tour or discussion.  With Google Connected Classrooms, teachers can find a calendar of past and upcoming Google+ Hangouts, which they can register to share in their classroom by clicking through to the relevant event page on Google+.

Nanotronics Imaging showed students microscopes that the company provides to semiconductor manufacturers, scientists, and researchers around the world.  The Brooklyn-based company developed new algorithms, software, and controls for best-in-class microscopes, created automated systems that improve results and lower overall imaging costs for manufacturers and researchers.

“Our systems let scientists, engineers and researchers view many very small objects at very high resolution, very quickly, while most other microscopes capable of nanoscale imaging are focused on viewing a single image. Showing kids what our systems can do, and how technology can cut the time and cost involved, is a huge step towards setting their imaginations free to start solving the problems they’ll face in the future, “ Putman said. 


The Fab of the Future

Gordon Moore

Former Intel CEO Gordon Moore, creator of Moore’s Law, in his cubicle at Intel.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore observed that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.

Moore always said it was just a hypothesis, but somehow, the semiconductor industry has managed to meet or exceed Moore’s Law ever since. It’s the only industry that has ever innovated at that kind of rate.

Moore’s Law is only 11 words long, but it’s had a profound effect on the world. Some treat Moore’s Law as if it were some kind of scientific rule – but it’s not a law of physics, just an uncannily accurate observation about what engineers can achieve.

Just as importantly, companies don’t follow Moore’s Law out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it because those that keep innovating grow and prosper, while those that don’t fade away.

So the semiconductor industry needs continual, major innovation in nanotechnology – and if that innovation doesn’t happen, the kind of growth we’ve seen in the last 100 years will stop. Imagine also, if rapid innovation as Moore predicted was not limited to semiconductors alone, but extended throughout industry?

Predicting the Demise of Moore’s Law

Many executives and pundits, from Google’s Eric Schmidt to Red Herring Magazine founder Tony Perkins have predicted or proclaimed the end of Moore’s Law. Perkins did it in a cover story on the death of Moore’s Law in February 2003 – ironically, just weeks before Red Herring went out of business.

But somehow, the industry just keeps producing more and more powerful chips at smaller and smaller size. But over the last two decades it’s become harder and harder – and more and more expensive – to keep doubling the processing power while shrinking the size of the circuits.

Why? Because you can only get to the next level by making things smaller and taking advantage of the innovations and increases in processing power and speed that are made possible by getting smaller.

Nanotronics Imaging nSpec System

Nanotronics Imaging nSPEC System

You can’t build it if you can’t see it. If you can’t see it, how do you build the circuits themselves, manage the manufacturing plants and assembly lines, handle quality control, and all the other things that you need to continue to innovate by making things smaller? One of the problems that the fabrication industry has struggled with is finding new ways to inspect the ever-smaller and ever more complex circuits in the numbers required for efficient quality control. Many advances in microscopy such as scanning probe microscopy and infrared microscopy have been developed to help keep up with the demands of the semiconductor fabrication industry, but due to the cost and low throughput, they have primarily helped with design – not manufacturing. Unfortunately, most of the advances in microscopy relied on methods that just aren’t suitable for large-scale qualify control. They show excellent images of a single thing, but the time and skilled man-hours required to set up each image is simply not workable in a manufacturing environment and the costs are prohibitive for smaller companies.So how is the industry going to keep up? According to Nanotronics Imaging co-founder Matthew Putman, by adopting disruptive technology that enables workers to be able to see a lot of very small things, very quickly, at a very affordable price.

More Than Meets the Eye

“I worked in a family company, an instruments maker called Tech Pro. In the late 1990’s, I was frustrated because we lost customers because they needed to be able to see a lot of very small things, very quickly, at a very affordable price. I couldn’t solve that problem for them – in fact, no one could solve that problem for them, or for us,” Putman says.

So he went back to college for a PhD in physics, and invested more than a million dollars of the money earned from the sale of Tech Pro into developing a hybrid system that combined best-of-class optical microscopes with algorithms he developed for the software that powers a new kind of optical microscopy solution for manufacturers.

“It’s a disruptive technology because it doesn’t replace anything that existed before,” Putman says. “We’ve developed a system that removes a barrier to innovation by solving a problem that was unsolvable until several things happened at once. The processing power of computers had to reach a certain point – and someone had to do the mathematics required to create the algorithms needed to handle the processing and imaging required to deliver nanoscale images in real-time – and the resulting software had to be integrated with top-of-the-line microscopes.”

Particle Defect Map

Particle Defect Map

The result is now in use by more than 20 customers who are using the Nanotronics Imaging nSPEC® system to automate the inspection process. “Instead of sampling the production line’s chips for defects, they can now inspect every single one for defects or other features of interest,” Putman says.

Customers are using the optical microscopy systems for silicon carbide and Gallium Nitride epi wafers. “What they can achieve is faster inspection, with detailed reporting and mapping. It’s fully automated, so the operator can set it and walk away, yet when a report identifies a potential problem, it’s easy to take a closer look,” he says.

Manufacturers who need the sub-nanometer imaging possible with atomic force microscopes (AFMs) can attach an optional AFM tip directly to the nSPEC system. “Our system offers 50 nanometer resolution now, and we’re moving toward 100 nanometer resolution,” Putman adds.

Is Moore’s Law Doomed Anyway?

The advances that Nanotronics Imaging is bringing to the wafer fab process are critical in keeping up with the challenges that manufacturer’s face. But, long term, Moore’s Law may be unsustainable.

Processing speeds have increased over a million-fold since Gordon Moore described his law in 1965, but researchers are starting to realize that without some sort of intervention the technology will hit a few logistical and physical limits around 2020. Among the problems that experts think may slow innovation are a shortage of R&D funding as well as a global lack of semiconductor engineers.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation put together a panel discussion in 2013 that brought together experts from academia and business to look at the future of Moore’s Law. One fact that the panel found alarming is the fact that every second, 640 Terabits of data are traveling through the Internet and that number is doubling and quadrupling every year. By 2016, consumers will be accessing 16 times as much video as they are viewing online right now – and that means a dramatic demand for more powerful processors, something the panel says isn’t possible even if Moore’s law is sustained.

Dr. Putman isn’t that pessimistic. “It’s easy to forget just how much of our future hasn’t yet been decided because we don’t have any idea of what exciting discoveries will be made in labs all over the world. Very talented people are exploring new chip architecture, spectral analysis, reconstruction techniques, and illumination systems that will create opportunities that are now only being imagined.

“I’m looking forward to experimenting with our partners, and sharing ideas with universities, clients, and partners. I think we’re at the beginning of a new age of innovation, not the end of an era.”

Photo credits: The photograph of former Intel CEO Gordon Moore was offered on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.  The photograph of the Nanotronics Imaging nSPEC system and the particle defect map are the property of Nanotronics Imaging.

Jaan Tallinn Joins Nanotronics Advisory Board

Jaan Tallin

Jaan Tallin (Photo credit: Jarek Jõepera)

Jaan Tallinn has been named to the Advisory Board for Nanotronics Imaging. Tallinn is widely recognized as one of the foremost innovators in information technology for his work as a founding engineer of Skype and Kazaa.

Tallinn is also the co-founder of MetaMed, a personalized medical research company, and a partner at Ambient Sound Investments. In addition, he is one of the founders for the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge and was an advisor and member of the board of Deepmind acquired by Google this year.

Nanotronics Imaging, a cutting-edge developer of optical microscopy tools for health and medical care, biotechnology, and life sciences research, recently completed a $7 million Series B financing round from Founders Fund, a San Francisco-based technology investment firm that has backed successful companies including Palantir, MetaMed, SpaceX, Facebook, ZocDoc and The Climate Corporation.

Nanotronics Imaging combines state-of-the-art optical microscopy with patented image processing and machine intelligence algorithms to allow for the imaging of a very large area of a specimen with nanoscale resolution.

The company’s nSpec tool links a computer-controlled microscope and stage with fast image processing techniques to enable high-throughput defect classification and localization for semiconductor substrate and IC chip fabricators.

Tallinn said, “Nanotronics Imaging and MetaMed both represent a significant disruptive force in medicine and health: a qualitative improvement in the collection and analysis of health information. The entire field is undergoing a sea change with new ways to collect, monitor, and analyze bio-information becoming available. I’m looking forward to working with Matthew Putman and his team as they continue to develop new applications for the company’s optical microscopy technology.”

Nanotronics founder Matthew Putman said, “We are thrilled to have Jaan Tallinn join us in developing our vision for transformative technology. His global leadership in health care and technology gives him a unique perspective, and his original thinking is a priceless asset. I am honoured to have him on board.”

There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom


Physicist Richard Feynman

Physicist Richard Feynman

On December 29, 1959, when physicist Richard Feynman stood behind a podium at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society to give his talk, There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, the IBM Series 7000 computer was the top of the line model for scientific computing. It cost $2.9 million and could store up to 100,000 characters of code in its core registry. The integrated circuit developed by Jack Kilby was barely a year old, and wasn’t yet in widespread use. Everyone wanted computers and scientific instruments that could measure more, store more information, and perform more complex processes and tasks. So his audience can be forgiven when they were surprised when the theoretical physicist told them to stop thinking about making things bigger and better and focus instead on miniaturization. “What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale,” he said. There is a staggeringly small world that is below us, Feynman said, and when they look back in the year 2000, they will wonder why it wasn’t until the year 1960 that anybody began seriously to move in the direction of miniaturization and nanotechnology.

He went on to talk about a machines assembled atom by atom, and the unlimited possibilities that manipulating things at the atomic level offered to scientists. He even offered cash prizes for the first inventors who could take the principles he outlined in his talk and solve specific problems. The first prize, for a tiny motor, was claimed just a few months later, but it took until 1985 before anyone met his second challenge – writing a page from a book on a surface small enough that the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica could be written legibly (legibly to a computer equipped with the required optical imaging to read it).

The Beginnings of Nanotechnology

Feynman’s “Room at the Bottom” lecture is often considered to be the beginning of nanotechnology as an active field of study. Much to the surprise of Feynman and many others, the field was much slower to take off than he predicted 55 years ago. Computers have progressed rapidly since Feynman’s day. The NASA computers that guided astronauts to the moon in 1969, for example, have less storage capacity and processing power than a modern toaster. (The Apollo Guidance Computer had approximately 64 Kbyte of memory and operated at 0.043MHz.)

But when it comes to manipulating and controlling things on a small scale, and seeing the tiny structures inside the human body or a semiconductor, progress wasn’t as fast as Feynman predicted. It took 20 years before scientists like Gerd Binnig of IBM’s research laboratories in Zürich and his collaborators Heinrich Rohrer and Christoph Gerber at IBM and Calvin Quate at Stanford University in California, dusted off Feynman’s theories and put them into practice in the invention of the STM (scanning tunneling microscope). The STM gave engineers and scientists the ability to see things at previously impossible scale, and create new materials and processes.

But optical microscopy and optical imaging have taken a huge step forward in recent years.  John Markoff wrote in the New York Times that today, a new wave of imaging technologies is transforming the practice of medicine. As one example, Markoff cited the advanced imaging software developed by Dr. Matthew Putman and the team at Nanotronics Imaging as an example of the new computerized analysis tools that are bringing optical imaging to a new level of speed and precision. You can read Markoff’s complete article by clicking on this link.

Putman says that in the 55 years since Feynman’s lecture, scientists rapidly learned to manipulate matter at the nanoscale level, but they have only recently been able to produce at the nanoscale.  “As Richard Feynman said, ‘it is not enough to see the small – you need to see the small in the large’.  

“To create the kind of optical imaging we have today, we needed to combine the very best optical hardware and completely new software. Now we can start to realize the benefits that Feynman predicted so long ago,” Putman adds.

To see some of the groundbreaking optical imaging that Nanotronics is delivering for doctors, semiconductor manufacturers, and industry, click here.

Photo Credit: This photograph of Richard Feynman was by Juana da Luca was offered under a Creative Commons License, and is used with permission.

Peter Thiel Joins Nanotronics Board after $7M Investment

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel

Founders Fund Partner Peter Thiel has been named to the Board of Directors for Nanotronics Imaging.  Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies, was the first outside investor in Facebook and is widely regarded as one of the most visionary investors in Silicon Valley.

Nanotronics Imaging, a leading developer of optical inspection tools for the semiconductor industry, recently completed a $7 million Series B financing round from Founders Fund, a San Francisco-based technology investment firm that has backed successful companies including Palantir, SpaceX, Facebook, ZocDoc and The Climate Corporation.

Nanotronics Imaging combines state-of-the-art optical microscopy with patented image processing and machine intelligence algorithms to produce optical inspection tools used in a wide variety of manufacturing environments. Nanotronics technology allows for the imaging of a very large area of a specimen with nanoscale resolution.

The company’s nSpec tool links a computer-controlled microscope and stage with fast image processing techniques to enable high-throughput defect classification and localization for semiconductor substrate and IC chip fabricators.

New board member Peter Thiel says “Four centuries ago, Galileo’s mastery of optics revolutionized our understanding of the universe. Today, Nanotronics has brought us to the cusp of a new revolution on the other end of the scale, as more industrial processes take advantage of nanoscale structures. Nanotronics’ fundamental advances in optical microscopy will dramatically enhance the production lines of many of the most critical industries of the future.”

Nanotronics founder Matthew Putman said, “We are thrilled to have Peter Thiel join us in developing our vision for transformative technology. We’re at a pivotal point in our development, with a rapidly growing customer base and plans to scale best-in-class products and services for the semiconductor industry as we expand into biomedical diagnostics and other industries.

“Peter’s experience is an invaluable resource. With his help, the investment from Founders Fund, will ensure that we are able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. We could not ask for a better, or more highly regarded partner.”

Photo Credit: This photograph of Peter Thiel, taken at the Fortune Brainstorm 2012 event, was provided by Fortune Live Media under a Creative Commons License, and is used with permission.