CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Folding paper into shapes such as a crane or a butterfly is challenging enough for most people. Now imagine trying to fold something that's about a hundred times thinner than a human hair and then putting it to use as an electronic device.
A team of researchers led by George Barbastathis, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is developing the basic principles of nano-origami, a new technique that allows engineers to fold nanoscale materials into simple 3-D structures. The tiny folded materials could be used as motors and capacitors, potentially leading to better computer memory storage, faster microprocessors and new nanophotonic devices.
Traditional micro- and nano-fabrication techniques such as X-ray lithography and nano-imprinting work beautifully for two-dimensional structures, and are commonly used to build microprocessors and other micro-electrical-mechanical (MEMS) devices. However, they cannot create 3-D structures.
"A lot of what's done now is planar," says Tony Nichol, a mechanical engineering graduate student working on the project. "We want to take all of the nice tools that have been developed for 2-D and do 3-D things."
The MIT team uses conventional lithography tools to pattern 2-D materials at the nanoscale, then folds them into predetermined 3-D shapes, opening a new realm of possible applications.
The researchers have already demonstrated a 3-D nanoscale capacitor, developed in collaboration with MIT Professor Yang Shao-Horn, which was presented at the 2005 meeting of the Electrochemical Society. The current model has only one fold but the more folds that are added, the more energy it will be able to store. Extra layers also promote faster information flow, just as the human brain's many folds allow for quicker communication between brain regions, says Nader Shaar, a mechanical engineering graduate student working on the project.
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology