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Home > Press > Researchers Carve with Electricity at the Nanometer Scale

Process may yield miniscule molecular detection devices, semiconducting connectors and molecular sieves

Researchers Carve with Electricity at the Nanometer Scale

August 18, 2005

By applying electric current through a thin film of oil molecules, engineers have developed a new method to precisely carve arrays of tiny holes only 10 nanometers wide into sheets of gold. The new system, called Electric Pen Lithography (EPL), uses a scanning-tunneling microscope, fitted with a tip sharpened to the size of a single atom, to deliver the charge through the dielectric oil to the target surface.

Electric Pen Lithography, Ajay Malshe, University of Arkansas
Using their new Electric Pen Lithography technique, University of Arkansas researchers carved the letters "NSF" into a gold sheet. The holes are only 10 nanometers in diameter. Copyright © and Credit: Ajay Malshe, University of Arkansas
Click on image for larger version.

With EPL, the researchers can both see and manipulate their target at the same time, all without the constraints of the vacuum chamber required by similar processes. With such tight control, the researchers hope the relatively inexpensive procedure will have applications for crafting single DNA detection devices such as nanopores, nanoscale interconnects in biological and semiconducting devices, molecular sieves for protein sorting and nanojets for fuel or drug delivery.

Mechanical engineer Ajay Malshe of the University of Arkansas, his students Kumar Virwani and Devesh Deshpande, and co-investigator Kamalakar Rajurkar of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln will present the new innovation at the International Institution for Production Engineering Research General Assembly in Antalya, Turkey, Aug. 21-27.

For additional information, see the University of Arkansas release:
Oil Worth Its Weight in Gold in Directed Nanomachining

This research was supported by NSF Grant #0423698
Collaborative Research: Development Of Nano-Electrical Discharge Machining (NANO-EDM) For Advanced Manufacturing


About the National Science Foundation:
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.47 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

For more information, please visit

Media Contacts:
Joshua A. Chamot
(703) 292-7730

Melissa Blouin
University of Arkansas
(479) 575-3033

Program Contacts:
Kevin W. Lyons
(703) 292-5365

Principal Investigators:
Ajay P. Malshe
University of Arkansas
(479) 575-6561

Related Websites:
Ajay Malshe homepage

Copyright NSF

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