Princeton engineers have invented an affordable technique that uses lasers and plastic beads to create the ultrasmall features that are needed for new generations of microchips.
The method, which creates lines and dots that are 1,000 times narrower than a human hair, may enable the creation of biological computers as well as micromachines with applications in medicine, optical communications, computing and sensor technologies.
The technique, created by mechanical and aerospace engineering assistant professor Craig Arnold and graduate student Euan McLeod, is similar to poising a magnifying lens over a scrap of paper and angling the lens to focus sunlight and ignite the paper. In place of the lens, the researchers use a microscopic plastic bead floating in water to focus light from a powerful laser and burn designs onto a blank microchip. Their findings are reported online June 8 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
While others have passed laser light through various microscopic objects to pattern surfaces, they have struggled to maintain a consistent distance between the bead and the surface of the microchip. If this distance changes, the laser light is focused in different ways across the surface and the resulting pattern is inconsistent. Arnold and McLeod established an innovative way to ensure that the bead is always the same distance from the microchip, which allows them to draw on the surface with high levels of precision.
"One of the biggest challenges in probe-based nanopatterning is regulating the distance between your probe and the surface of the microchip," said Arnold. "We used a special laser to trap the bead and keep it close to the surface without touching it."
The researchers used the technique to "draw" features that were about 100 nanometers (a billionth of a centimeter) in size.
The key innovation is the use of a second, highly focused laser, which points directly down
|Contact: Steven Schultz|
Princeton University, Engineering School