Inspired by the ancient Egyptians who used chisels to etch text and artistic drawings into stone, IBM scientists have created a “chisel” of their own that is 100,000 times smaller than the tip of a sharp pencil to create nano-sized objects and patterns in both 2 and 3D.
And not to be outdone, the scientists even created a little art of their own to prove that the technique worked.
Creating and fabricating nano-sized objects, such as electronic components, has been accomplished by scientists around the world, but the ability to get below 30 nanometers and to fabricate these objects with high-precision has become increasingly more challenging for conventional tools and techniques.
Using their new technique, IBM scientists have demonstrated that they can create patterns and structures as small as 15 nanometers at very high resolutions, and at five to ten times less cost and far less complexity.
In one demonstration, the scientists used molecular glass to create a 25 nanometer-high 3D replica of the Matterhorn, a famous Alpine mountain that soars 4,478 m (14,692 ft) high.
In a second demonstration, they created a complete 3D map of the world on a polymer. This map is so small that 1000 copies could fit on a grain of salt. (check out the Flickr images)
“Advances in nanotechnology are intimately linked to the existence of high-quality methods and tools for producing nanoscale patterns and objects on surfaces,” explains physicist Dr. Armin Knoll of IBM Research – Zurich. “With its broad functionality and unique 3D patterning capability, this nanotip-based patterning methodology is a powerful tool for generating very small structures.”
The science behind the technique
The core components of this breakthrough are in two parts, the tip and the substrate.
The first is a tiny, very sharp silicon tip or “chisel” that measures 500 nanometers in length and only a few nanometers at its apex.
Similar to those used in atomic force microscopes, it’s attached to a bendable cantilever that controllably scans the surface of the “stone” or substrate material with the accuracy of one nanometer – a millionth of a millimeter. By applying heat and force, the nano-sized tip can remove substrate material based on predefined patterns—operating like a “nanomilling” machine with ultra-high precision.
The second part was the substrate or material. Finding the right substrate was particularly challenging, but working with a team of chemists at IBM’s lab in Almaden, California, they actually discovered two materials including a molecular glass and a polymer that could handle the heat and pressure of the technique.
This patterning technique opens new prospects for developing nanosized objects in fields such as electronics, future chip technology, medicine, life sciences, and opto-electronics.
Both of these discoveries are being reported this week in the journals Science and Advanced Materials.