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IBM Research, Almaden

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IBM Almaden Research Center 
The IBM Almaden Research Center is one of eight IBM research centers across the globe. The Science & Technology organization at the Almaden lab is responsible for cutting-edge research for storage and information technology as well as exploratory research in the areas of nanoscale structures. These deep skills also enable adjacent space technologies like membranes for water purification and photovoltaics.

Links: 

  - IBM Almaden Research Center 

Interview:  

Q: In which Countries does your organization have a presence?

IBM BRINGS MRI TECH TO THE NANOSCALE: The cantilever force sensor at the heart of IBM's "nano-MRI" microscope measures just twelve hundredths of a millimeter in length and a tiny one ten-thousandth of a millimeter thick. IBM scientists have used this nano-MRI to visualize structures at resolution 60,000 times better than current magnetic resonance imaging technology allows. This technique brings MRI capability to the nanoscale level for the first time and represents a major milestone in the quest to build a microscope that could "see" individual atoms in three dimensions. With further development, applications could include understanding how individual proteins interact with drugs for discovery and development, and analyzing computer circuits only a few atoms wide.

The IBM Research division has eight worldwide labs across the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Israel, India, and China.  

Q: How many employees do you have?  

IBM Research has about 3000 employees worldwide. The IBM Almaden Research Center houses 400 researchers of which about 120 work in the Science & Technology function.  

Q: Please provide a short paragraph outlining the history of your organization.  

IBM's first research facility, the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory, opened in a renovated fraternity house near Columbia University in Manhattan in 1945. In 1961, IBM moved its research headquarters to the T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. Today, IBM Research operates laboratories in the United States, Switzerland, Israel, Japan, China and India.

In 1952, IBM opened its first California research lab in San Jose, California - the area that decades later would come to be known as Silicon Valley. Within four years, the lab began to make its mark by inventing magnetic storage systems. In 1986, IBM dedicated the Almaden Research Center, the successor to the San Jose Research Laboratory. Almaden, located about 55 miles southeast of San Francisco, is IBM's second-largest laboratory with primary focus areas including storage systems, technology, computer science and service science.

The IBM Almaden lab has a rich history of achievement including a legacy of disk drive innovation - Almaden researchers invented the relational database - leading to the creation of an industry. More recently, Almaden researchers established the emerging discipline of service science, and in the 1980s, IBM Fellow Don Eigler was the first person to move individual atoms in an Almaden lab that is now referred to as "the Kitty Hawk of nanotechnology." Almaden's staff of approximately 400 researchers plus visiting staff carries out its job of ensuring IBM's future success in two primary ways: by advancing fundamental scientific understanding and by working closely with IBM product developers to use this knowledge to create and improve IBM products and services.

The major areas of research at Almaden are Science & Technology, including fundamental science, nanotechnology, spin physics and photoresists; Computer Science, with work in areas such content management, human-computer interaction, text analytics, services-oriented architectures and most recently healthcare informatics; Service Science Research, focusing on large scale, people-and information-intensive challenges and Storage Systems, ranging from storage and file systems to server software and systems management. Additionally, technology licensing is a key element in our value creation strategy and a source of significant mutual benefits for IBM Research and its external partners.  

Q: Explain the role of nanotechnology in the development of your organization or department.

IBM Research at Almaden participates in a wide variety of activities that fall under the broad scope of nanoscale science and technology. The main focus is to leverage nanostructures to make useful devices and products. While nanotechnology is relevant to many industry segments that include chemical industry, energy industry, medical applications, information technology, etc, IBM's focus is on aspects of nanotechnology that are relevant to storage technology, information processing and other IT related fields. The activities span synthesizing nanoscale materials, nanoscale fabrication for creating nanoscale structures and devices, and developing novel methods to probe and manipulate atoms.

Q: What key markets do you serve?  

We primarily serve markets in the IT space. 

Q: How has nanotechnology impacted the products or services you provide?

Nanotechnology is integral to all our semiconductor products.    

Some twenty years ago at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, in a small lab packed with high-tech equipment in the hills of Silicon Valley, IBM Fellow Don Eigler achieved a landmark in mankind's ability to build small structures. On September 29, 1989 he demonstrated the ability to manipulate individual atoms with atomic-scale precision, and went on to write I-B-M with individual Xenon atoms, an event likened to the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk.

Q: Has your organization made any significant contributions to nanotechnology? 

Here are some key nanotechnology contributions that we have made

  • Manipulating of individual atoms with a scanning probe
  • Detection of the spin of a single electron
  • Magnetic resonance force microscopy to detect and image nuclear spins
  • Nanoscale spin momentum transfer sensor development
  • World record 6.7Gb/in2 areal density tape demonstration
  • World record 20 x 3 nm phase change memory cell
  • Self assembly chemistry to enable sub-30 nm directed patterns

Q: Briefly describe a current project involving nanotechnology, and what your anticipated outcome will be (new process, new product, etc.)  

Storage Class Memory Project: This project aims to develop a new class of non-volatile memory that is dense, fast and low cost. The technology targets sub-20 nm cells to enable extremely high density storage.    

Q: Where do you see nanotechnology applications leading in the future?  

Nanotechnology is one of IBM Research's big bets - one of four key research areas in which IBM is investing $100M each over the next three to four years - since it impacts nearly all aspects of semiconductor technology. It also plays an integral role in our adjacent research that explores storage and post-CMOS technologies.    

Q: What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to work at your organization in 3-5 years?  

Develop deep skills in materials science and chemistry as these will be vital to expand the nanotechnology boundaries.

Q:  What industry do you think has been impacted the most by nanotechnology thus far? Why?  

This depends to a great extent on the definition of nanotechnology. If you include everything less that 100 nm, then I will say that the semiconductor industry has been impacted the most since the entire industry has blown past the 100 nm target in just the past few years, and every chip that is sold today has millions of transistors that are sub-100nm.

Q:  What industry do you think has the greatest future potential to be impacted by nanotechnology?  Why?  

The IT industry, because of scaling and power challenges to the traditional transistor. The health care industry also stands to benefit greatly from unique drug delivery mechanisms based on nanotechnology.