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A side view of six polished ceramic read-write heads
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A side view of six polished ceramic read-write heads assembled in a holding tray.

May 26, 2010
A side view of six polished ceramic read-write heads assembled in a holding tray. Note the metallization on the edges of the bars. The ceramic material itself is black. The heads were cleaned by an environmentally-friendly fluid derived in part from green tea and developed for use in ceramic polishing. The chemical is part of a slurry that polishes the ceramics (made from aluminum oxide and titanium carbide) used in computer hard drive read-write heads.

The fluid was developed with the support of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant (DMI 03-19794), awarded to Dr. John Lombardi of Ventana Research Corporation in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Lombardi was awarded the grant to develop high performance, environmentally-benign lapping fluids for hard drive manufacturing applications. [Image 5 of 6 related images. See Image 6.]

More about this Image: The new biodegradable machining compound for computer hard drive manufacturing is three to four times more effective than toxic counterparts and is part of a family of machining fluids that bind to polishing debris and rapidly remove tiny particles from the polishing surface. The fluids are critical because imperfections in read-write heads must be less than 10 angstroms high--larger defects can cause the head to crash into the disk, causing data loss. Ventana formulates its fluid using a combination of synthetic proteins derived from common commercial chemicals and compounds extracted from green tea and other plants. The plant chemicals in the new fluid (which are the same ones that form stains in coffee pots and drinking mugs) are abundant and easily extractable, and they give the new fluid its ability to bind to the particle debris formed while polishing read-write heads.

Lombardi hopes the fluid's possible biocompatibility and high affinity for ceramics and metals may lead to applications in wastewater treatment (to remove heavy metal contaminants from water) and medicine (the compound may have advantages for delivering certain cancer treatments).

NSF awards SBIR grants to small businesses for risky, novel research with a potential for commercialization. Through SBIR and the related Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, NSF encourages partnerships between the small business and the academic sectors to develop a technology base for commercialization.