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March 7, 2002

Interview with Barry Weinbaum of NanoOpto

Barry Weinbaum is the CEO of NanoOpto, a company that is producing optical networking components on the nanoscale. NanoOpto has just released nanoscale optical components, which perform on a nanometer scale, and which perform operations which bulk optics cannot.

Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and what projects are you currently working on?

I have 21 years of executive and management experience in telecommunications with AT&T and Lucent Technologies. Prior to joining NanoOpto in August 2001, I was Vice President of Optical Long Haul Solutions (DWDM) — Optical Networking Group at Lucent Technologies. I was also Director of Mergers and Acquisitions for Lucent’s Optical Networking Group. Prior to that, I spent 19 years on the Enterprise side of Telecommunications as a Developer, Technical Manager, Product Manager and eventually as a General Manager. I have an established record of leading start-up, established and turn-around operations to market leadership (globally) in a variety of product and technology areas. I hold a B.S. in Computer Science and Mathematics from Union College in Schenectady, NY, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Columbia University. I also hold two patents. Right now, I am concentrating on helping to put NanoOpto on the map and spend as much ‘spare time’ as I have with my family.

There has been considerable recent interest in optical interconnects for electronic devices. Has NanoOpto done any research on this subject?

NanoOpto’s approach to the market is very unique. We have two basic core technology competencies. The first is SOEs (subwavelength optical elements), which take advantage of the physical principles that apply in the interaction of light and structures with dimensions far smaller than the wavelength of light. In particular, with structural dimensions on the order of 10s or a few 100s of nanometers, the effects of reflection, refraction, and defraction are highly localized and governed by a blend of classical optics and quantum effects and introduce a variety of new and unique properties.

The second core technology competency is in manufacturing. Our proprietary manufacturing process allows for very large scale integration in wafer sizes, producing 1000s of components at a time. This has never been done in optical component manufacturing. We have the ability to create a portfolio of integrated and standalone optical components based on our platform technology and our ability to manipulate “nano-patterns” and scale them quickly into manufacturing.

Intel cofounder Gordon Moore has expressed skepticism about the feasibility of molecular electronics. Mr. Moore argues that conventional silicon MOSFET technology has a $100 billion investment behind it, and that competing technologies will have to entirely replace this enormous investment. What is your opinion of Mr. Moores arguments?

The good news is that nano technology, in research for 20-30 years, is really in the next wave in VLSI. What many have labeled, as science fiction is real and is about to be commercialized.

Better news — while much work using nano-structures is being done in the biomedical field (“mini-robots”) and consumer electronics areas (next generation high-definition screens), the first commercial products in the next wave of new technology will be in optical component and sub-component fabrication that find their way into optical networking systems.

NanoOpto may very well be the first bona fide nano technology manufacturer of commercial nano products in ANY industry sector. Thus, the fiber optics industry is going to be the proof point for the entire field of nano-based technologies. While both exhilarating and challenging, we possess a disruptive core technology that will be introduced non-disruptively. The communications industry is going to be scrutinized to see how it harnesses and leverages the potential of nano.

The best overall news is that the fabrication of nano-based components is now at a stage where the process of replication is understood and attainable. The foundation now exists for mass production and mass customization. We are on the threshold of orders of magnitude advances in miniaturization, with excellent yields and price performance.

So — it seems real enough to us!!

How is the investment climate for companies working in nanotechnology?

One of the few fields that have been successful in raising high-tech money during the industry slow-down has been in the nano-technology field. NanoOpto has been very successful in fielding proactive inquiries from investors. We are exceptionally proud of the “top-drawer” investors we have attracted.

Carbon nanotubes have shown promise as molecular memory devices, interconnects, and even as logic gates. Has NanoOpto done any research in this field?

As stated above, NanoOpto’s process is truly unique. Not only are we able to create many new products out of similar materials by manipulating their “nano-structures” we also have a unique and proprietary method in mass-manufacturing, that borrows a great deal from the semi-conductor industry. At the same time, because of the novel interaction between SOEs and light, large and bulky optical effects are realized on a very small scale. In general this allows a size reduction for the integrated component using the SOE and can also allow a reduction in the number of subcomponents required. An example is in the use of SOEs for polarization management. When light is incident on an SOE polarization beam splitter, one polarization passes through and the other is reflected back, creating a 180-degree separation in the space of less than a millimeter. In a number of optical component applications where each polarization must be processed independently, this results in a much more compact integrated optical component. As a second example, because of the scale of the nano-structures used, SOEs can exhibit a broad acceptance angle; integration and alignment are simplified, allowing for both architectural flexibility and lower tolerances in manufacturing. The savings become obvious.

NanoOpto claims to have the first ever mass manufacture of a nanotechnology engineered product. Tell us about this.

Please see my answers to questions two and five, above.

Current computer systems have several bottlenecks — in memory, bus speeds, and in interconnects. Future computer designs will need to address these issues. To what extent can molecular electronics reduce these problems?

NanoOpto’s mission is to be the first to accomplish large scale integrated optical components on a chip. It is not our focus to address the challenges mentioned in the question.

Many people conceive of molecular electronics as components that only work cryogenically. Will molecular electronics be rugged and reliable enough to operate in real world applications?

We have already demonstrated to our (potential) customers that we can produce more features and functions because of the new physical principals of SOEs than others can with traditional technology. These customers already see the value in our technology and are evaluating it for inclusion in their own integrated optical sub-systems.

What do you think of the Drexlerian concept of molecular assemblers? Do you think they will ever be feasible?

Drexlerian theory is just that, theory. NanoOpto’s practical application in the integrated optical components field is real, proven and now.

In the long run, does your company favor more of a “top down” or “bottom up” approach towards nanotechnology development?

NanoOpto has a platform technology. This means there are a lot of things we can do. If “top-down” means that customers and their challenges should drive our new product developments — that’s what we are all about. We are not about being a “solution looking for a problem.”

What is NanoOptos timeframe or a roadmap for future products?

We plan to work very aggressively and announce new product offerings every quarter.

What are your plans for the future?

Unlike the era we are emerging from (the great boom followed by the hard thud), NanoOpto is about building a long-term, sustainable business model lead by many strong customer relationships. There will be many forks in the road and many important decisions to make in the future. But what I can say is we are off to a great start. Importantly, high quality investors and our prospective customers agree.

Sander Olson

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