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Thomas Wendling

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Professor of Applied Physics and Nanotechnology

Fachhochschule Hannover

Hannover, Germany


  • Ph.D., Physics, Technical University of Munich
  • Advanced Graduate Studies, (all but dissertation Ph.D.), Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering.
    Columbia University
  • Masters, Physics (Physical Chemistry), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Masters, Physics (Chemistry), University of Heidelberg
  • Vordiplom, Physics and Chemistry, University of Heidelberg

Work Focus:

Wendling is Professor of Applied Physics and Nanotechnology at Fachhochschule Hannover in Hannover, Germany.

Advice to Students:

"They would have to enjoy and focus on the physical sciences -- that's important. And it doesn't have to be the high-energy physics -- it's more like the quantum physics they have to go for. And definitely math skills are important, as well as chemistry."


  - Fachhochschule Hannover


Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
In 2001 to 2003, I had a leave of absence, and one of the start-up companies I worked for was Ultraphotonics -- Ultraphotonics was working on digital switches based on nanotechnology. I started picking up nanotechnology then, and when I returned back to the university, I decided to bring nanotechnology into the curriculum.

Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?  
Wendling: After I introduced nanotechnology at the university, I began to teach an introductory course in nanotechnology every other semester. My own focus is on manufacturing, on actually making nanoparticles and other things. I recently focused on a method of making nanoparticles, and on making nanoparticles of one size, because the size is what determines the properties of the nanoparticles. And so manufacturing is one focus, and my other focus is on a schematic to make and integrate into current processes a vertical nanowire-based transistor. So those are the two things I'm focused on right now: making vertical nanowire-based transistors, and making nanoparticles.    

Q: What's the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Wendling: With nanotechnology, I'm really working on a technology frontier. You have to immerse yourself in nanotechnology to see the new opportunities there are. And that's very exciting. What's a little disappointing is that it's difficult to make mass nanotechnology in the high-tech area, and I understand now that the timeframe is much longer than originally anticipated. For example, to make a million transistors without a fault in the chip will take time. I think what will happen in the near future is a kind of merger of bottom-up and top-down technology. So for example, you make seats, locations where a nanowire grows on a nanochip via conventional technology, but to grow the nanowires is bottom-up technology. So this is something like I'm looking into and which will be probably is not near term technology, but intermediate technology.

Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you’ve worked on has positively impacted the world?
 It's too early to tell. I mean, the last thing I worked on was optical detectors, where we used nanowire-technology to bring the light from the top of the chip to the photo-diode, and it's patented now, but to realize it in manufacturing will take a few more years.   

Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?  
Wendling: To date, nanotechnology has generated a lot of excitement. And the excitement is actually out in the public, and of course the researchers are excited too, but industry is very slow to take it on. It costs a lot of money, and a lack of understanding is part of it, and it's expensive and risky. I started a start-up, and the questions from the investors were "have you demonstrated it?"  So we reply, "no, it’s a concept, we need money to demonstrate it, that's why we're here." They like to have a demonstration at least, but the concept by itself is not sufficient. That's a big hurdle, you know if you come from a university where you can't do research yourself, you have to always go out and work with partners and industry. But it's very difficult to get the initial funding to make a demonstration. 

Q: Please give an example of what you envision nanotechnology applications leading to in the future. 
Well, a lot has been written about what the impacts of nanotechnology will be in the future. As a matter of fact, I see a lot of applications -- which is surprising -- in medicine. And that may not necessarily the focus of nanotechnology. I'm coming originally from microelectronics, but maybe the big reward will actually be in medicine or biotechnology applications, rather than in electronics. For example, there's a German company, Magforce, which is making magnetic nanoparticles which are applied to cancer growth.  It's basically chemotherapy localized, because what they do is they apply the magnetic nanoparticles to the cancer, then apply an external electromagnetic wave -- a field -- that makes the nanoparticles heat up and basically destroy the cancer.  It's a thermal destruction of the cancer. And you do that just like you do chemotherapy -- with a treatment every few days, over a certain period of time.

In nanoelectronics, microelectronics, the natural path is that the roadmap goes to smaller and smaller transistors. What I would like to see is more bottom-up technology being applied there. Right now it is top-down technology, which is the traditional technology to make transistors. And bottom-up technology is when you build up from gases, molecules, atoms into structures. Self-assembly becomes a reality. That's really exciting stuff.  

Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Wendling: More alone. Yeah I'm really working alone. I'm the only one who works on nanotechnology at the university, and I actually go out and try to work with companies.  Of course, I'm obviously working with other people, but often it's like a start-up situation where I'm pushing the effort and people are added on while we're working on it, so initially I work mostly alone.   

Q: If you work more as a team, what are some of the other areas of expertise of your team members?   
Wendling: I do have partners that I collaborate with.  For example, I did have a colleague who was a business professor and so he was basically focusing on the business aspects of a start-up. I was presenting the technical part, and he was taking on the business plan. And we would put it together.

Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
My professional career developed while I was studying. So I finished my first degree in magnetic resonance, which is more like physical chemistry, and I got into the semiconductor industry, and then I picked up electrical engineering and applied physics. The company I worked for, Bell Lab, they said OK, you're all Ph.D.s, you have your masters, but we'll pay you to go to Columbia and do this special program in electrical engineering and applied physics, which was exactly what I was looking for.  So, for me actually my work determined which subject I'm focused on.  

Q: Do you have a mentor?  Did you in your college years?
Wendling: Unfortunately, no -- never. But, I think it’s a good thing to have one. I recommend to everybody who can get a mentor, that they should. Because, looking back, I wish I could have had a mentor sometimes, a senior mentor, who could have given direction or maybe also helped to set up some contacts for me.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
If I wouldn't have taken the path, the focus I had at the time which was microelectronics ---  which would have gotten me into nanotechnology anyhow I suspect. 

Q: What advice do you have for pre-university students?
They would have to enjoy and focus on the physical sciences -- that's important. And it doesn't have to be the high-energy physics -- it's more like the quantum physics they have to go for. And definitely math skills are important, as well as chemistry. Nanotechnology is across all disciplines, but definitely the physical sciences are important. And because medicine might become the prime benefiter of nanotechnology, I would also include biology as an area to focus on.