In a preliminary test of the embryonic technique, NIST scientists used violet light with a wavelength of 436 nanometers to image features as small as 40 nanometers, about five times smaller than possible with a conventional optical microscope.
Roughly speaking, such a feat is akin to picking up a solitary dime with a clumsy front-end loader. If successfully developed, the imaging technology could be readily incorporated into chip-making and other commercial-scale processes for making parts and products with nanometer-scale dimensions.
The wavelengths of light in the visible part of the spectrum greatly exceed nanoscale dimensions. Consequently, the resolution of conventional light-based imaging methods is limited to about 200 nanometers—too large to resolve the details of nanotechnology, which, by definition, are no more than half that size.
However, a newly begun, five-year research effort at NIST suggests that a novel combination of illumination, detection and computing technologies can circumvent this limitation. Success would extend the technology’s 400-year-long record as an indispensable imaging and measurement tool well into the expanding realm of nanotechnology.
Called phase-sensitive, scatter-field optical imaging, the computer-intensive technique under development at NIST uses a set of dynamically engineered light waves optimized for particular properties (such as angular orientation and polarization). How this structured illumination field—engineered differently to highlight the part
Source:NIST Tech Beat