Researchers at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering have received a grant to develop a method for mass-producing devices less than 10 nanometers in size, addressing one of the most significant barriers to their widespread use.
Vincent Donnelly and Demetre Economou, both professors with the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, received a three-year, $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop their nanopantography method of nanoscale fabrication.
Currently, most nanoscale devices are built just one or a few at a time, often by shooting a beam of electrons or ions directly at a thin film material on a substrate. This method, known as direct writing, is effective for research and development but is impractical for large-scale commercial applications.
Nanopantography overcomes this problem by placing a vast number of “microlenses” directly on the substrate. These microlenses divide a collimated ion beam into far smaller beams, each of which writes on the substrate. If the substrate remains stationary, they will create simple dots on the nanoscale. More complicated patterns can be drawn by tilting the substrate during the writing process. Using this technique, Donnelly and Economou have already created roughly half a billion complex nanoscale features on just one square centimeter of substrate in a matter of hours.
The speed and flexibility of nanopantography “make it ideal for mass producing a wide variety of nanotech devices, especially compared to other techniques that are better suited for producing just a few devices at a time for research purposes,” said Economou.
With this grant, Donnelly and Economou will work to develop a plasma source providing a higher flux of ions than before, which should enable even faster writing. The two will also refine their process to write smaller and smaller features, aiming for patterns measuring just three nanometers. Creating patterns that small in large volume will be an important step toward bringing nanotechnology out of the lab and into people’s everyday lives.