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Breakthrough In Nanoimprinting Yields Simple Way To Make Microscopic Electronics

Breakthrough In Nanoimprinting Yields Simple Way To Make Microscopic Electronics - Physics Forum

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Old 07-23-2004, 02:14 PM
Bubba Do Wah Ditty
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Default Breakthrough In Nanoimprinting Yields Simple Way To Make Microscopic Electronics

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Breakthrough In Nanoimprinting Yields Simple Way To Make Microscopic
July 22, 2004

Scientists achieve smallest-ever spacing in nanoscale structures

In a breakthrough that could lead to dramatically smaller memory chips
and other electronic components, Princeton scientists have found a way to
mass produce devices that are so small they are at the limit of what can be
viewed by the most powerful microscopes.

The achievement is an advance over current techniques, which require
expensive and time-consuming procedures to create anything so small. The
technique offers a relatively simple, low-cost production method that may
lead to greater memory capacity and lower costs for computers, digital
cameras and other devices. In addition, the scientists achieved
unprecedented success in packing the minute structures into dense clusters.

The researchers, led by engineering professors Stephen Chou and Stephen
Lyon, used a technique known as nanoimprinting, in which they press a mold
into a layer of softened plastic on a silicon wafer, making microscopic
patterns on the surface of the plastic. The patterns can then be transferred
to the silicon where they could form the basis of miniature electronic
circuits that store digital information.

The goal of the research was to determine how small and dense a pattern
could be pressed into plastic with nanoimprinting, said Chou, who invented
nanoimprinting in 1994. "This work really pushes the limit down to a few
molecules in size," he said.

The scientists published their results in the June 28 issue of Applied
Physics Letters. The other authors of the paper include graduate students
Michael Austin, Wei Wu, Mingtao Li and Zhaoning Yu and postdoctoral
researchers Haixiong Ge and Daniel Wasserman.

The researchers reported that they created tall, thin ridges only 5
nanometers (5 millionths of a millimeter) wide. The researchers believe they
made ridges even narrower than 5 nanometers, but could not confirm the
results with existing microscopes. "So we still do not know what the
absolute limit is," said Chou.

An important aspect of the achievement is not just the small size of the
ridges, but also the amount of space between the ridges, Chou said. The
spacing, known as "pitch," ultimately determines the density of electronic
memory that can be packed onto a chip. In their published paper, the
scientists reported that they achieved a 14-nanometer pitch between ridges.
They have since reduced it to 12 nanometers. That spacing is a 20-fold
reduction compared to the state-of-the-art techniques used in making today's
most advanced computer chips and would result in 400 times more memory in a
two-dimensional memory chip, Chou said.

The current method for making nanoscale devices is to carve each piece
individually with a beam of electrons, a technique called electron-beam
lithography. That method does not achieve the 14-nanometer pitch of
nanoimprinting and requires equipment that is much more expensive than
anything used in Chou's technique.

The key to the result was the collaboration between the labs of Chou and
Lyon and the combination of their different areas of expertise. Chou, the
pioneer of nanoimprinting, was looking for improvements in the molds he uses
for pressing patterns into plastics. His standard method for making a mold
was to use electron-beam lithography to carve the desired pattern in a piece
of silicon, which is then pressed into plastic. This approach is limited by
the narrowness of the electron beam, which carves out a U-shaped channel
about 20 nanometers wide.

To improve on this level of precision, Chou turned to Lyon, an expert in a
technology called molecular-beam epitaxy, which Lyon uses to grow flat
sheets of crystals just a few molecules thick. Members of Lyon's lab grew
alternating layers of two materials until they had a wafer hundreds of
layers thick. Researchers in Chou's lab then cut the wafer, exposing the
edges of the layers. They applied a chemical that ate away one of the two
materials but not the other. The result was a very fine comb-like pattern in
which all the teeth and valleys were perfectly smooth and square with atomic
precision. The researchers used this creation as their mold.

This mold-making process, though time-consuming, would need to be done only
once in setting up a manufacturing process, said Chou. Once the mold is
made, it can be used to make countless copies very rapidly.

The research is the latest in a series of nanoimprinting advances Chou has
made in recent years. In 2003, Technology Review magazine, published by the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, identified Chou's work with
nanoimprinting as one of "10 emerging technologies that will change the
world." His latest study was funded in part by the Department of Defense
Advanced Research Projects Administration.


Bubba Do Way Ditty

"Arbolist.... Look it up the word. I don't know, maybe I made it up.
Anyway, it's an arbo-tree-ist, somebody who knows about trees."

Bushisms, 2001

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