Princeton’s Chou



HTI’s Nanocatalysts

Inmat: Gloves, Tires, And Tennis Balls

At Corporate Plaza

Sarnoff’s Jia Chen

Nano at Rutgers

Corrections or additions?

This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Small (& Brave) New World of Nanotechnology

When Anton von Leeuwenhoek made his first microscope,

he was overcome with delight at the sight of the bacteria in his own

saliva, the "wee beasties" as he called them. More than 300

years later, scientists are studying the world on a much smaller scale,

a nano scale.

These scientists are manipulating individual atoms and molecules,

though it is hard to comprehend how. A nanometer is a billionth of

a meter. Think of the difference between a strand of human hair and

the width of a redwood tree. Or ponder the fact that a nanometer is

to a meter as three millimeters are to the distance between New York

and San Francisco.

Nanotechnology could have an unprecedented effect on a very wide variety

of industries, and as "the next new thing" after the Internet

it is attracting a great deal of media and investor attention. "At

the most basic social level, nanoscale engineering is going to be

responsible for massive changes in the way we live, the way we interact

with one another and our environment, and the things we are capable

of doing," predicts Brian Lundquist, publisher of the trade magazine

Nanotechnology Now (

In all the media flurry Princeton is getting its due. Of 15 companies

featured last month in Time magazine, three — NanoOpto, Hydrocarbon

Technologies, and Inmat — were from central New Jersey. Inmat’s

Harris Goldberg will speak on a panel at the New Jersey Technology

Council’s nanotechnology update on Monday, October 21, at 4 p.m. at

Lucent Technologies, 600 Mountain Avenue, in Murray Hill. Cost: $40.

Call 856-787-9700.

A half dozen nanotechnology-based companies have sprouted up here,

and many of the companies that were working on a microscopic-scale

project can now claim the nano-size label. Two of the new firms —

NanoOptics and Nanonex — are based on the work of Princeton University’s

Stephen Chou and both have products to sell. Two of the existing firms

— Hydrocarbon Technologies on New York Avenue in Trenton and Inmat

in Hillsborough — have introduced nano-based products. Sarnoff

Corporation is dedicating some resources to this field, and Rutgers

has 18 researchers working on nearly a dozen different nano topics.

Meanwhile well-established firms are taking the opportunity to re-emphasize

their nano-scale discoveries.

Nano-based companies in the electronics field can now

tap the resources of Lucent Technologies. That beleaguered company

has been able to keep the wolf from its nanolaboratory’s door by opening

the 27-year-old lab to the general public. It has received $4 million

from the federal and state governments to make its fabulous Murray

Hill laboratory available to outsiders (see page 47). Another government

funded center for nanotechnology, Picatinny Arsenal, is getting money

from the government for joint projects with Stevens Institute and

the New Jersey Institute of Technology (page 44). New Jersey hopes

that these funds may help create a "Nano Valley."

Nanotechnology used to mean "anything smaller than microtechnology,"

but it can also represent a process of building — molecule by

molecule — either very advanced nanoscale machines and computers

or ordinary size objects using very small machines called assemblers.

Once the universal assembler and the nanocomputer have been invented,

futurists like Eric Drexler (author of the 1986 book "Engine of

Creation") say computer speed will increase by a factor of a billion

and computer size will decrease by a factor of a billion. Some go

so far as to predict that, fully deployed, not only will nanotechnology

eliminate manufacturing pollution, but it will also eliminate hunger,

poverty, homelessness, and want. But it could also create the rather

scary possibility of "nanobots" and self-replicating "nanogoo."

Theoretically anything can be self replicating at no cost — anything

from houses to nano-scale robots. Good robots could conquer and discard

cancer cells. Bad robots? Possibilities are limited by your own nightmares.

Far less scary outcomes are being worked on by Princeton area companies.

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Princeton’s Chou

If you go to any nanotech venture conferences, almost

all CEOs talk about having a product three years from now. "We

have products now," says Chou, as he shows off his nanolaboratory

in Princeton University’s Engineering Quadrangle. His first firm,

NanoOpto, is designing and making components for optical networking

with a process that is biologically clean and can also be applied

to data storage and other fields. His second, Nanonex, is making the

machines that NanoOpto and other companies can use for their nano

manufacturing processes.

"Research could lead to surprising discoveries," says Chou.

As he talks about challenging established thought, he uses a favorite

expression, "conventional theories may no longer apply," and

he raises his arms high and wide in enthusiasm.

For computer chips, Chou’s methods could increase the density of transistors

on silicon chips by 100-fold and also streamline production. These

microstructures are made now with a physical or a chemical approach,

in a process that takes 10 to 20 minutes per chip. Chou’s mechanical

approach takes a quarter of a millionth per second and represents

a paradigm shift in manufacturing.

"We use a `cooky cutter’ to form the shape of the formable material,"

says Chou. "We create a pattern, fix it, then take the cooky cutter

out." Think of how a waffle iron is immersed in liquid batter.

When the liquid gets hard, the waffle iron is removed, leaving the

formed batter. "To make it hard, we use either heat or light or

both," says Chou. The liquid used is a specially made polymer

developed by his group.

The "waffle iron" or "cooky cutter" can make either

periodic patterns or arbitrary patterns. To make the master copy,

very slow electron beam lithography is used, and the master copy can

easily be replicated into "daughter molds" for manufacturing.

"One copy takes 10 seconds, and 10 molds can make 10,000 copies,"

Chou says. Nanonex commercializes the machine that does this.

Chou’s early entry into this field helped him figure out which products

could be made quickly and would be attractive to clients. "It

was so new when I began that people thought it was rather like fiction,"

says Chou.

His first astute decision, when he was a student in China, was to

major in engineering. "I saw what the Cultural Revolution did

to liberal arts studies," says Chou, "and I chose a subject

that had hard and fast standards that could not depend on what the

government wants. And I thought that countries must always need roads,

so I chose engineering. I started very young liking to do things with

my hands, and nanotechnology allows me to build things."

He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986, then

went to Stanford and to the University of Minnesota. In 1996 he made

a breakthrough, creating the world’s smallest transistor, which requires

the current of only one electron. The following year he was lured

to Princeton with the promise of a $1 million lab, to which he brought

his own equipment, $10 million worth, paid for by federal grants.

His Nanostructure Laboratory has 14 graduate students and six post

docs, and is one of the most well populated labs at Princeton.

Both of Chou’s parents were academics who survived the Cultural Revolution.

His father taught logic and philosophy (particularly Hegel) and his

mother taught English literature and does translation. One younger

brother is an engineer at Lucent, and the other works in California,

while his sister is a physician. Chou’s wife is also a physician practicing

part time in Hillsborough, and they have a two-year-old daughter.

"My wife has been supportive so I can fulfill my dream," he

says. To accomplish both academic and corporate duties requires long

hours, from 7 or 8 a.m. to midnight or after, with just a break for

dinner, seven days a week, plus much travel. He is frequently asked

to talk on the commercialization of technology, and last week, for

instance, he spoke in Germany, Taipei, and California.

"The way my parents brought me up had a very important effect,"

says Chou. "My parents taught me to be persistent and not be easily

turned back by difficulties. I remember my father always emphasized

that the short run guy gets all the honors but, in the long run, the

person doing the valuable work will be appreciated more."

Though Chou’s office is next to that of Nobel Prize-winner Daniel

Tsui, he disavows any ambitions to be awarded coveted prizes. First

of all, he points out, his field of engineering is not covered by

the Nobel committee. "Instead I hope that, after many years, people

will say this is very significant work. I am trying to identify the

important areas and directions in my field and to explore them."

"One important part of my job that I enjoy is to train someone

to be a professional and teach them things that have lasting value

in their life. I don’t expect to get any reward for that."

Top Of Page

NanoOpto is the first of Steven Chou’s companies. For

the optical components business, NanoOpto has been able to design,

manufacture, and scale optical components, using commercially viable

nanoimprint lithography. Only 15 months after its initial funding,

it has achieved a revenue status. "That is extremely rare if not

unheard of especially in the communication space," says CEO Barry


"Not only have we figured out a revolutionary way to design optical

components but we are also manufacturing," says Weinbaum. "Most

of the companies either have vestiges of a manufacturing process or

research. I am hard pressed to think of one that has both." His

plant went online in March. Waveplate "optical building blocks"

are the latest products that come from NanoOpto’s modular nano-optic

component technology.

Weinbaum went to Union College in Schenectady, New York, Class of

1980, and has a master’s degree in computer science. His first job

at AT&T migrated to Lucent. He was recruited from Lucent to NanoOpto

by co-founders Chou and Howard Lee, a former vice president at Sun

who ran Apple’s Macintosh division.

NanoOpto ranks 12th in the Venture Reporter’s list of top-funded nanocompanies

in the country. After the first round of funding, $20 million had

been raised from such venture firms as Morgenthaler Ventures, Bessemer

Venture Partners, and New Enterprise Associates. "A $20 million

first round for a startup is always impressive," wrote the Venture

Reporter in its nanotechnology report (, "but

in this economic climate it’s downright spectacular."

These monies resulted in an unusually mature business model. Due to

the recession, Weinbaum was able to buy capital equipment for 10 to

20 cents on the dollar and instead of a one year’s delivery time the

equipment arrived in six weeks. "It is a great time to be a startup

if you have money in the bank," he says. Also due to the downsizings,

he was able to choose from the plethora of good engineering talent.

Weinbaum thought about opening the firm in West Trenton but decided

instead to stay closer to his potential workforce, former Lucent employees,

so he settled in a 36,000-foot Somerset plant that is halfway between

Newark Airport and Princeton. "We have pulled people from Penn,

Canada, and California. To get people to move from California, that

says quite a bit."

It could be 30 to 50 years before nano manufacturing becomes commonplace.

And Weinbaum admits that for two years his initial market, the optical

industry, has been cratering. "But we have had more than 20 companies

order products for integration with other products and subsystems,"

says Weinbaum. "Regardless of the shape that the optical market

is in, it is still a $2.5 billion industry."

NanoOpto Corporation, 1600 Cottontail Lane, Somerset

08873. Barry Weinbaum, CEO. 732-627-0808; fax, 732-627-9886. Home


Top Of Page

At Princeton Corporate Plaza on Deer Park Drive, NanoNex

makes the nanoimprint lithography machines that NanoOpto — and

other research and manufacturing labs — can use. Larry Koecher

(pronounced kager), vice president of operations, is developing the

structure of the business and overseeing sales efforts.

"Stephen Chou is the inventor of nanoimprints," says Koecher.

"He has built 14 generations of this tool for his laboratories.

One year ago he decided it was time to begin the commercialization


Chou’s nanoimprint lithography method costs less than other high throughput

lithographic techniques. "We can put a tool in the hands of anyone

who needs nano structures fabricated at a fraction of what they would

have to pay for next generation lithographic tools," says Koecher.

"Some of those tools are $30 to $40 million. We provide an alternative

to those businesses, and also for universities, that find it economically

unfeasible to invest that kind of money." Princeton University

receives royalties from the Nanonex machines, and Chou’s NanoOpto

company is one of Nanonex’s big clients.

Born and raised in Minnesota, the 50-year-old Koecher had been a student

at the University of Michigan, but when he drew a low draft number

he entered the U.S. Army Signal Corps. After military service he worked

in Illinois for Leica Microsystems, first as a field service engineer,

then in management positions, most recently as project manager for

developing an electron beam lithography tool.

"Stephen Chou recruited me," says Koecher, explaining why

Chou did not need to use the services of a headhunter: "The advanced

lithography community is a very small one."

Nanonex, 1 Deer Park Drive, Suite O, Monmouth Junction

08852. Larry Koecher, vice president. 609-683-3973; fax, 609-683-3974.


Top Of Page
HTI’s Nanocatalysts

Theo Lee, CEO of the 38-person Hydrocarbon Technologies

Inc. on New York Avenue in Trenton, is making international news for

his company’s nano work. Time magazine pictured Lee and his cohort

Bing Zhou in front of what looks like a fiery furnace in a two-page

layout in the September issue of the magazine. In September Lee was

selected as one of the nation’s top 10 innovators by a leading venture

publication, Red Herring.

His 38-person firm just signed a licensing agreement with the largest

coal company in China to build a $2 billion plant in Inner Mongolia

that will use HTI’s nanocatalyst to liquefy coal. The liquefaction

plant will be the biggest facility of its kind. Time suggested that

this technology could "tip the geopolitical scales" and reduce

the dependence on oil of coal-rich countries such as China, the U.S.,

and Germany, as well as significantly reduce pollution that contributes

to global warming.

The catalysis market worldwide is worth more than $10 billion and

nano-catalysis is billed as the best advancement in this field in

20 years. "A catalyst technology helps the reaction to work better,

faster, more efficiently," Lee explains. "The more surfaces

available, the greater and faster the reaction." He uses the example

of the surfaces available on one marble, versus those available on

a smashed marble.

"When nanoparticles make a reaction more efficient, it gets rid

of bad side effects and reduces the amount of precious metals needed,"

says Lee. "Also we are able to manipulate the orientations of

the crystals so that a certain reaction can reduce the amount of undesirable


HTI was founded in 1943 as Hydrocarbon Research Inc. by Percival Keith,

who at the Manhattan Project had refined uranium for atom bombs, and

who then invented a coal-to gas-to liquid fuel process. (U.S. 1, "Refueling

R&D," June 10, 1998). Lee, a graduate of Tunghai University in

Taipei, came to HTI in 1992. In 1995 HTI’s employees bought themselves

out, and last year HTI sold itself for $15 million to a publicly owned

company, Headwaters Incorporated, based in Utah.

"Nano is a relative term," says Lee. "Catalysis is always

small anyway, but nano is down to the atomic level. Our ability is

not in going small, but in having the know-how to be able to manipulate

the crystal’s orientation."

It is ironic that Trenton’s big contribution to nanotechnology is

housed in a 19th century brick factory that once supplied the Trenton

ceramics industry. HTI’s $4 million proof-of-concept laboratory and

pilot plant has a landmark eight-story "gasifier," sheathed

in scaffolding, on Route 1 just north of the New York Avenue exit.

Hydrocarbon Technologies Inc.(HDWR), 1501 New York

Avenue, Lawrenceville 08648. Theo Lee, CEO. 609-394-3102; fax, 609-394-1278.

Top Of Page
Inmat: Gloves, Tires, And Tennis Balls

Nano technologies have been evolving for a long time,

but what has burst on the scene is the investor interest, says Harris

Goldberg of Hillsborough-based Inmat. He combines nanoclay particles

and rubber polymers in what SmallTimes (

calls nanocomposites, "a growing category of materials that fuse

ingredients to create new substances with unprecedented properties."

Like Theo Lee, Goldberg also had a day-long visit from a Time magazine

photographer, who pictured him juggling yellow tennis balls. Goldberg

hopes to leverage a long-accepted technology — nano-dispersed

clay — to coat tires for added strength. Because getting a contract

from rubber companies is such a long and drawn out process, he turned

to tennis balls to keep the company going.

"Certain nano materials have been around for a long time in catalytic

chemical production and the photography industry. What’s new is the

uses they are being put to," says Goldberg. For instance, his

preferred raw material, nano clay, has been used for 10 years for

a variety of paints and coatings. "Most other clays are sold as

viscosity modifiers for house paints."

Like Stephen Chou, he needed to find a quick-to-market product. "We

recognized that a coating approach gave us commercialization advantage.

Most others have tried to add a little bit of clay to a processing

line and have the clay magically disperse through the product and

give them the properties they want. All we wanted was improvements

in barrier properties. Because of more recent work in nanocomposites,

we were able to recognize how the nanocomposite coating could provide

the functionality required for our customers."

He takes apart the nanoclays and uses them on a molecular scale in

one dimension and on a microscopic scale in another dimension. Into

his coating he mixes nano dispersed clay, each sheet 1 nanometer thick

by 10-microns long. This coating provides a barrier for diffusion.

"When air tries to go through rubber, the air diffuses right through.

By putting the clay particles in and dispersing them properly, the

air has to go around the particles."

Goldberg and Carrie Feeney co-founded the firm in 1999. They acquired

all the rights to the nanocomposite coating technology that had been

developed by their team when it was part of Hoechst. They also acquired

all the equipment they were using, which placed the company in an

excellent position to continue its product development and commercialization.

Commercial sales started at the end of 2000.

Raised in the Bronx, where his father had a candy store, Goldberg

went to the City College of New York, Class of 1969, and has a PhD

from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Feeney went to Penn

State, Class of 1987, and has a PhD from Duke.

Inmat has a $250,000 interest-free loan from the New Jersey Commission

on Science and Technology and a $200,000 Seed Capital loan from the

NJ Economic Development Authority. The Army contract to develop chemical

protective gloves came through an SBIR grant.

The firm consists of seven people, and they all work together to manufacture

the coating in big mixing vessels that pour into 55-gallon drums.

"A batch takes several days to a week but is not labor intensive,"

says Goldberg. The nanocomposite coating is being used in Wilson Premium

tennis balls — the official balls of the Davis Cup.

Inmat LLC, 216 Route 206, Valley Park, Suite 7,

Hillsborough 08844. Harris Goldberg, president. 908-874-7788; fax,


Top Of Page
At Corporate Plaza

Nano-Ditech Corporation, 1 Deer Park Drive, Suite

L, Monmouth Junction 08852. Young Hoon Kim, president. 732-438-8616;

fax, 732-438-8617. Home page:

Nano-Ditech is developing a new kind of software for biomedical diagnostic

kits for point-of-care use. "We are working to make certain kinds

of biomedical diagnostic kits for pharmaceutical companies. For this

`lab on a chip’ we do the software and Nanonex does the hardware,"

says Young Hoon Kim, president and chief technical officer. He is

pioneering in electro immuno chromatography, which uses capillary

action to draw magnetic beads, coupled with gold and an antibody,

through a microfluidic channel. The antibody, its bead, and the gold

are retained by an in-channel magnet so that swift diagnosis can be


Kim went to Seoul National University, Class of 1983, and has a PhD

in microbiology. He and his wife live in West Windsor with their two

school-aged children.

Gyros Microlabs, 11 Deer Park Drive, Princeton

Corporate Plaza, Suite 100, Monmouth Junction 08852. John Shomers,

director of sales. 732-438-9400; fax, 732-438-8881. Home page:

Based in the United Kingdom, this firm offers microfluidic systems

for point of care diagnostics. "We’re providing nano tools,"

says John Shomers. "We reduced the microliters to nanoliters."

(U.S. 1, August 14).

Charge Injection Technologies Inc., 1 Deer Park

Drive, Princeton Corporate Plaza, Suite G, Monmouth Junction 08852

Arnold J. Kelly, chief scientist. 732-274-1470; fax, 732-274-1454.

This eight-person firm is working with DuPont on nanofibers from polymers

with a wide range of applications. Founded in 1989, it does controlled

electrostatic charging of powders and liquids to enhance dispersion.

First, it is developing protective materials to strengthen barriers

against toxic substances, liquids, bacteria, and viruses. Nanofiber

materials have holes that are smaller yet allow vapor pressure to

pass through. Other potential applications are drug delivery and nanoelectrics,

says David Salem, vice president of R&D. "If you inject electrons

into polymer fluids, the electrons repel each other and break the

liquid up into fine fibers. Ours is a high throughput process."

The estimated time to market for these products is three to four years.

PharmaSeq Inc., 1 Deer Park Drive, Princeton Corporate

Plaza, Suite F, Monmouth Junction 08852. Wlodek Mandecki, president.

732-355-0100; fax, 732-355-0102. Home page:

Founded three years ago, this genomics company can perform nucleic

acid-based assays with the light-powered nanotransponders that are

less than 1000th the size of a grain of rice. They represent the world’s

smallest externally powered monolithic integrated circuit that can

transmit an identity code by radio frequency. The next smallest size,

made by competitors, is about the size of a Tylenol capsule.

PharmaSeq also has laser light-powered nanotags for non-biotech applications,

such Radio Frequency Identification Applications for commercial use,

acting as inexpensive alternative to a bar code. It could be used

for such products as works of art, CDs or DVDs, bank notes, traveler’s

checks, drivers’ licenses, and passports.

Top Of Page
Sarnoff’s Jia Chen

Sarnoff Corporation’s Jia Chen wants to measure biological

signals and interface that with electronics, such as a silicon chip.

This bioelectronic interface will use the power of the computer to

understand what is happening in the body. "We will be listening

to molecules communicating with each other," says Chen.

"In nanotechnology, everything is about scale, and the scale is

moving toward the molecule and moving toward atoms. What’s difficult

is the ability to control the molecules at that scale," says Chen.

Using MEMS as a basis, nanotechnology scientists have been integrating

biotechnology and biochemistry for applications in the medical area.

"We want to understand and gain an ability to control single molecules,

particularly molecules of interest in biology or medicine. We want

to see them and we want to manipulate them for other purposes beyond

the natural state," says Chen. The son of immigrants from Canton,

China, he went to Boston University, Class of 1995, and did his PhD

at Cornell in the MEMS area. He came to Sarnoff 2 1/2 years ago and

is technical manager of integrated microsystems.

Some very advanced biology is being pursued to do communications with

chemical reactions, using — for instance — growth hormones.

"We would like to tap into those communication channels with an

electronic probe," says Chen. With two other researchers he is

working on an initial seed stage contract from DARPA.

Top Of Page
Nano at Rutgers

At least 18 senior researchers at Rutgers University

are pursuing various aspects of nanotechnology, and their areas of

study represent almost all the current varieties of nano research:

Fuel cells. Ali Maher, Kimberly J. Martin and Patrick

Szary of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation

are working at the nano level to build and test fuel cells that could

help replace today’s automobile combustion engine.

Medical devices. How nanoparticles and nanocoatings

could help build better medical valves and implants is the thrust

of a team comprised of Thomas Tsakalakos and Richard Lehman of ceramic

and materials engineering, Helen Buettner of chemical and biochemical

engineering, Evangelia Tzanakou of biomedical engineering, and physicist

Marc Croft.

Space exploration. In the mechanical and aerospace engineering

department, Haym Benaroya is working on analytical models to study

the dynamics of "space tethers." Assembled with super-strength

carbon nanotubes, such a tether would extend 62,000 miles into space

and allow payloads to slowly escape Earth’s gravity without brute

rocket force.

Biotech. Edward Castner, David Talaga and Kathryn Uhrich

are working on ways to use "nanocarriers" to transport drugs

through the bloodstream. Chemical and biochemical engineers Fernando

Muzzio, Prabhas Moghe, and Silvina Tomassone are developing nanoparticle-based

systems for targeted and sustained delivery of delicate or insoluble


Nanotechnology is getting unparalleled support from the federal

government — $422 million a year — and enthusiastic support

from private investors. As listed in Venture Reporter, investment

is divided more or less equally into optical/telecom, biotech, and

IT, with a small percentage going to energy projects.

The potential applications for nanotechnology is mindboggling. In

life sciences, where PharmaSeq is positioned, they include biodectors,

delivery of drugs through skin, stomach, and eyes, and design of replacement

organs. In consumer goods, where Inmat is working, paint could be

made graffiti proof.

Hydrocarbon Technologies represents the energy area, turning fossil

fuels into automotive fuel. In the IT area, represented by Chou’s

companies, nanotechnology could make flat screens less expensive,

and totally eliminate hard drives in PCs. Yes, nanotechnology could

be like the Internet, because it will change the world as we know

it. But let’s remember just how many fortunes were made — and

lost — in cyberspace.

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