Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shed light on the role of temperature in controlling a fabrication technique for drawing chemical patterns as small as 20 nanometers. This technique could provide an inexpensive, fast route to growing and patterning a wide variety of materials on surfaces to build electrical circuits and chemical sensors, or study how pharmaceuticals bind to proteins and viruses.
One way of directly writing nanoscale structures onto a substrate is to use an atomic force microscope (AFM) tip as a pen to deposit ink molecules through molecular diffusion onto the surface. Unlike conventional nanofabrication techniques that are expensive, require specialized environments and usually work with only a few materials, this technique, called dip-pen nanolithography, can be used in almost any environment to write many different chemical compounds. A cousin of this technique — called thermal dip-pen nanolithography — extends this technique to solid materials by turning an AFM tip into a tiny soldering iron.
Dip-pen nanolithography can be used to pattern features as small as 20 nanometers, more than forty thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair. What’s more, the writing tip also performs as a surface profiler, allowing a freshly-writ surface to be imaged with nanoscale precision immediately after patterning.
“Tip-based manufacturing holds real promise for precise fabrication of nanoscale devices,” says Jim DeYoreo, interim director of Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a DOE nanoscience research center. “However, a robust technology requires a scientific foundation built on an understanding of material transfer during this process. Our study is the first to provide this fundamental understanding of thermal dip-pen nanolithography.”
Thermal dip-pen nanolithography turns the tip of a scanning probe microscope into a tiny soldering iron that can be used to draw chemical patterns as small as 20 nanometers on surfaces. (Image courtesy of DeYoreo, et. al)