A new low-cost, high-resolution tool is primed to revolutionize how nanotechnology is produced from the desktop, according to a new study by Northwestern University researchers.
“With this breakthrough, we can construct very high-quality materials and devices, such as processing semiconductors over large areas, and we can do it with an instrument slightly larger than a printer,” said Chad A. Mirkin, senior author of the study and a world-renowned pioneer in the field of nanoscience.
The paper details the advances Mirkin’s team has made in desktop nanofabrication based upon easily fabricated beam-pen lithography (BPL) pen arrays, structures that consist of an array of polymeric pyramids, each coated with an opaque layer with a 100 nanometer aperture at the tip. Using a digital micromirror device, the functional component of a projector, a single beam of light is broken up into thousands of individual beams, each channeled down the back of different pyramidal pens within the array and through the apertures at the tip of each pen.
The nanofabrication tool allows one to rapidly process substrates coated with photosensitive materials called resists and generate structures that span the macro-, micro- and nanoscales, all in one experiment.
Key advances made by Mirkin’s team include developing the hardware, writing the software to coordinate the direction of light onto the pen array and constructing a system to make all of the pieces of this instrument work together in synchrony. This approach allows each pen to write a unique pattern and for these patterns to be stitched together into functional devices.
“There is no need to create a mask or master plate every time you want to create a new structure,” Mirkin said. “You just assign the beams of light to go in different places and tell the pens what pattern you want generated.”
Because the materials used to make the desktop nanofabrication tool are easily accessible, commercialization may be as little as two years away, Mirkin said. In the meantime, his team is working on building more devices and prototypes.
Using optimized conditions, the total writing period can be decreased to ~70 ms. This implies that writing 1 square cm reticle would require 1.75 second for 1 μm resolution and 44 s for 200 nm resolutions, a ~10,000 fold improvement
in writing speed relative to the instrument presented here.
The development of a lithographic method that can rapidly define nanoscale features across centimetre-scale surfaces has been a long-standing goal for the nanotechnology community. If such a ‘desktop nanofab’ could be implemented in a low-cost format, it would bring the possibility of point-of-use nanofabrication for rapidly prototyping diverse functional structures. Here we report the development of a new tool that is capable of writing arbitrary patterns composed of diffraction-unlimited features over square centimetre areas that are in registry with existing patterns and nanostructures. Importantly, this instrument is based on components that are inexpensive compared with the combination of state-of-the-art nanofabrication tools that approach its capabilities. This tool can be used to prototype functional electronic devices in a mask-free fashion in addition to providing a unique platform for performing high-throughput nano- to macroscale photochemistry with relevance to biology and medicine.