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Engineers Create, Analyze and Erase Nanoscale Structures Using Versatile Printing Technology

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Engineers from IBM, Princeton, and the University of California Los Angeles have created a new form of nanolithography. This technique allows researchers free rein when it comes to creating, analyzing, and erasing nanoscale structures.

The new technology was used by researchers to create structures less than 10 nanometers in diameter. These structures were so tiny that an electron microscope was required in order to visualize them. This remarkable technology was inspired by electron beam nanolithography. This technology allows nanoscale structures to be deposited in layers. These layers are laid down using a film which is electron sensitive, called a ‘resist.’ The resist changes its chemical makeup when exposed to the electron beam. The beam draws a pattern across the exposed area; each new layer demands a new resist film to be added. This means that three-dimensional nanostructures are built up as each layer is stacked on.

This technology allows for greater flexibility than previous methods, which relied on precut masks to produce shapes. The beam can draw any figure or shape that comes to mind, granting scientists a previously unimagined freedom when it comes to designing nanostructures.

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“Fabrication of nanostructures of desired shape, structure and composition is one of the hottest areas of nanotechnology right now. Our new method combines several existing fabrication technologies to produce unprecedented flexibility to use in a variety of metals, build multiple types of nanostructures, and fabricate and erase those structures on the fly.”

Daniel Steingart, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton

While this new nanotechnology is a huge step forward, it still has some constraints. The process of building up the layers is time-consuming and laborious. Additionally, the entire process needs to take place in a vacuum; to create one requires extremely expensive machinery. Scientists are now working on streamlining the technique so as to make it faster and more cost effective.

But despite its drawbacks, this technology could have countless applications in the future. These nanoscale structures could be used to create better batteries and tiny lasers with multiple uses. The technology also has the potential to be used in the creation of life-saving next-generation medical sensors and drug delivery devices.

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