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Water droplets direct self-assembly process in thin-film materials
Date:11/23/2009

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. You can think of it as origami very high-tech origami.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a technique for fabricating three-dimensional, single-crystalline silicon structures from thin films by coupling photolithography and a self-folding process driven by capillary interactions.

The films, only a few microns thick, offer mechanical bendability that is not possible with thicker pieces of the same material.

"This is a completely different approach to making three-dimensional structures," said Ralph G. Nuzzo, the G. L. Clark Professor of Chemistry at Illinois. "We are opening a new window into what can be done in self-assembly processes."

Nuzzo is corresponding author of a paper accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is to be posted on the journal's Early Edition Web site the week of November 23.

As a demonstration of the new capillary-driven, self-assembly process, Nuzzo and colleagues constructed spherical and cylindrical shaped silicon solar cells and evaluated their performance.

The researchers also developed a predictive model that takes into account the type of thin film to be used, the film's mechanical properties and the desired structural shape.

"The model identifies the critical conditions for self-folding of different geometric shapes," said mechanical science and engineering professor K. Jimmy Hsia. "Using the model, we can improve the folding process, select the best material to achieve certain goals, and predict how the structure will behave for a given material, thickness and shape."

To fabricate their free-standing solar cells, the researchers began by using photolithography to define the desired geometric shape on a thin film of single-crystalline silicon, which was mounted on a thicker, insulated silicon wafer. Next, they removed the exposed silicon with etchant, undercut the remaining
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Contact: James E. Kloeppel
kloeppel@illinois.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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