Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Caltech Scientists Solve Decade-Long Mystery of Nanopillar Formations

Schematic showing typical experimental setup. Lower: AFM image of 260 nm high nanopillars spaced 3.4 microns apart which formed in a polymer film.

[Credit: Upper: Dietzel and Troian/Caltech; PRL. Lower: Chou and Zhuang, J. Vac. Sci. Technol. B 17, 3197 (1999).]
Schematic showing typical experimental setup. Lower: AFM image of 260 nm high nanopillars spaced 3.4 microns apart which formed in a polymer film. [Credit: Upper: Dietzel and Troian/Caltech; PRL. Lower: Chou and Zhuang, J. Vac. Sci. Technol. B 17, 3197 (1999).]

Abstract:
Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have uncovered the physical mechanism by which arrays of nanoscale (billionths-of-a-meter) pillars can be grown on polymer films with very high precision, in potentially limitless patterns.

Caltech Scientists Solve Decade-Long Mystery of Nanopillar Formations

Pasadena | Posted on October 26th, 2009

This nanofluidic process—developed by Sandra Troian, professor of applied physics, aeronautics, and mechanical engineering at Caltech, and described in a recent article in the journal Physical Review Letters—could someday replace conventional lithographic patterning techniques now used to build three-dimensional nano- and microscale structures for use in optical, photonic, and biofluidic devices.

The fabrication of high-resolution, large-area nanoarrays relies heavily on conventional photolithographic patterning techniques, which involve treatments using ultraviolet light and harsh chemicals that alternately dissolve and etch silicon wafers and other materials. Photolithography is used to fabricate integrated circuits and microelectromechanical devices, for example.

However, the repeated cycles of dissolution and etching cause a significant amount of surface roughness in the nanostructures, ultimately limiting their performance.

"This process is also inherently two-dimensional, and thus three-dimensional structures must be patterned layer by layer," says Troian.

In an effort to reduce cost, processing time, and roughness, researchers have been exploring alternative techniques whereby molten films can be patterned and solidified in situ, and in a single step.

About a decade ago, groups in Germany, China, and the United States encountered a bizarre phenomenon while using techniques involving thermal gradients. When molten polymer nanofilms were inserted within a slender gap separating two silicon wafers that were held at different temperatures, arrays of nanoscale pillars spontaneously developed.

These protrusions grew until they reached the top wafer; the resulting pillars were typically several hundred nanometers high and several microns apart.

These pillars sometimes merged, forming patterns that looked like bicycle chains when viewed from above; in other films, the pillars grew in evenly spaced, honeycomb-like arrays. Once the system was brought back down to room temperature, the structures solidified in place to produce self-organized features.

In 2002, researchers in Germany who had observed this phenomenon hypothesized that the pillars arise from infinitesimal—but very real—pressure fluctuations along the surface of an otherwise quiescent flat film. They proposed that the differences in surface pressure were caused by equally tiny variations in the way individual packets (or quanta) of vibrational energy, known as phonons, reflect from the film interfaces.

"In their model, the difference in acoustic impedance between the air and polymer is believed to generate an imbalance in phonon flux that causes a radiation pressure that destabilizes the film, allowing pillar formation," says Troian. "Their mechanism is the acoustic analogue of the Casimir force, which is quite familiar to physicists working at the nanoscale."

But Troian, who was familiar with thermal effects at small scales—and knew that the propagation of these phonons is actually unlikely in amorphous polymer melts, which lack internal periodic structure—immediately recognized that another mechanism might be lurking in this system.

To determine the actual cause of nanopillar formation, she and Caltech postdoctoral scholar Mathias Dietzel developed a fluid-dynamical model of the same type of thin, molten nanofilm in a thermal gradient.

Their model, Troian says, "exhibited a self-organizing instability that was able to reproduce the strange formations," and showed that nanopillars, in fact, form not via pressure fluctuations but through a simple physical process known as thermocapillary flow.

In capillary flow—or capillary action—the attractive force, or cohesion, between molecules of the same liquid (say, water) produces surface tension, the compressive force that is responsible for holding together a droplet of water. Since surface tension tends to minimize the surface area of a liquid, it often acts as a stabilizing mechanism against deformation caused by other forces. Differences in temperature along a liquid interface, however, generate differences in surface tension. In most liquids, cooler regions will have a higher surface tension than warmer ones—and this imbalance can cause the liquid to flow from warmer- to cooler-temperature regions, a process known as thermocapillary flow.

Previously, Troian has used such forces for microfluidic applications, to move droplets from one point to another.

"You can see this effect very nicely if you move an ice cube in a figure eight beneath a metal sheet coated with a liquid like glycerol," she says. "The liquid wells up above the cube as it traces out the figure. You can draw your name in this way, and, presto! You have got yourself a new form of thermocapillary lithography!"

In their Physical Review Letters paper, Troian and Dietzel showed how this effect can theoretically dominate all other forces at nanoscale dimensions, and also showed that the phenomenon is not peculiar to polymer films.

In the thermal-gradient experiments, they say, the tips of the tiny protrusions in the polymer film experience a slightly colder temperature than the surrounding liquid, because of their proximity to the cooler wafer.

"The surface tension at an evolving tip is just a little bit greater, and this sets up a very strong force oriented parallel to the air/polymer interface, which bootstraps the fluid toward the cooler wafer. The closer the tip gets to the wafer, the colder it becomes, leading to a self-reinforcing instability," Troian explains.

Ultimately, she says, "you can end up with very long columnar structures. The only limit to the height of the column, or nanopillar, is the separation distance of the wafers."

In computer models, the researchers were able to use targeted variations in the temperature of the cooler substrate to control precisely the pattern replicated in the nanofilm. In one such model, they created a three-dimensional "nanorelief" of the Caltech logo.

Troian and her colleagues are now beginning experiments in the laboratory in which they hope to fabricate a diverse array of nanoscale optical and photonic elements. "We are shooting for nanostructures with specularly smooth surfaces—as smooth as you could ever make them—and 3-D shapes that are not easily attainable using conventional lithography," Troian says.

"This is an example of how basic understanding of the principles of physics and mechanics can lead to unexpected discoveries which may have far-reaching, practical implications," says Ares Rosakis, chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) and Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering at Caltech. "This is the real strength of the EAS division."

The work in the paper, "Formation of Nanopillar Arrays in Ultrathin Viscous Films: The Critical Role of Thermocapillary Stresses," was funded by the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation.

####

About Caltech
The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Kathy Svitil

Copyright © Caltech

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Searching for errors in the quantum world September 21st, 2018

Viral RNA sensing: Optical detection of picomolar concentrations of RNA using switches in plasmonic chirality September 21st, 2018

UT engineers develop first method for controlling nanomotors: Breakthrough for nanotechnology as UT engineers develop first method for switching the mechanical motion of nanomotors September 21st, 2018

Nanobiotix: Update on Head and Neck Phase I/II Trial with NBTXR3 and Other program data presented at ImmunoRad 2018 September 20th, 2018

Thin films

Laser sintering optimized for printed electronics: New study sheds (laser) light on the best means of laying down thin-film circuitry September 13th, 2018

Carbon in color: First-ever colored thin films of nanotubes created: A method developed at Aalto University, Finland, can produce large quantities of pristine single-walled carbon nanotubes in select shades of the rainbow; the secret is a fine-tuned fabrication process -- and a s August 29th, 2018

Stress-free ALD from Picosun August 28th, 2018

CTI Materials drives nano commercialization with it's patented surfactant free nanoparticle dispersions August 15th, 2018

NEMS

UT engineers develop first method for controlling nanomotors: Breakthrough for nanotechnology as UT engineers develop first method for switching the mechanical motion of nanomotors September 21st, 2018

Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication July 13th, 2018

One string to rule them all April 17th, 2018

Leti Scientists Participating in Sessions on Med Tech, Automotive Technologies, MEMS, Si-photonics and Lithography at SEMICON Europa: Teams also Will Demonstrate Technology Advances in Telecom, Data Fusion, Energy, Silicon Photonics and 3D Integration October 18th, 2016

Possible Futures

Searching for errors in the quantum world September 21st, 2018

Viral RNA sensing: Optical detection of picomolar concentrations of RNA using switches in plasmonic chirality September 21st, 2018

UT engineers develop first method for controlling nanomotors: Breakthrough for nanotechnology as UT engineers develop first method for switching the mechanical motion of nanomotors September 21st, 2018

Leti Announces EU Project to Develop Powerful, Inexpensive Sensors with Photonic Integrated Circuits: REDFINCH Members Initially Targeting Applications for Gas Detection and Analysis For Refineries & Petrochemical Industry and Protein Analysis for Dairy Industry September 19th, 2018

MEMS

Mirrorcle Demonstrates MEMS-based Programmable Light Source at CES and PW18 August 30th, 2018

Stress-free ALD from Picosun August 28th, 2018

Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication July 13th, 2018

Cleaning or Etching Items with Unique Geometries Requires Specialized Expertise June 27th, 2018

Self Assembly

DNA drives design principles for lighter, thinner optical displays: Lighter gold nanoparticles could replace thicker, heavier layered polymers used in displays’ back-reflectors June 27th, 2018

Collaboration yields discovery of 12-sided silica cages June 20th, 2018

Self-assembling 3D battery would charge in seconds May 22nd, 2018

Engineered polymer membranes could be new option for water treatment May 6th, 2018

Nanoelectronics

How a tetrahedral substance can be more symmetrical than a spherical atom: A new type of symmetry September 14th, 2018

Laser sintering optimized for printed electronics: New study sheds (laser) light on the best means of laying down thin-film circuitry September 13th, 2018

September 5th, 2018

Rice U. lab probes molecular limit of plasmonics: Optical effect detailed in organic molecules with fewer than 50 atoms September 5th, 2018

Discoveries

Searching for errors in the quantum world September 21st, 2018

Viral RNA sensing: Optical detection of picomolar concentrations of RNA using switches in plasmonic chirality September 21st, 2018

UT engineers develop first method for controlling nanomotors: Breakthrough for nanotechnology as UT engineers develop first method for switching the mechanical motion of nanomotors September 21st, 2018

NUS researchers invent new test kit for quick, accurate and low-cost screening of diseases: Test results are denoted by a color change and could be further analyzed by a smartphone app, making it attractive as a point-of-care diagnostic device September 19th, 2018

Announcements

Searching for errors in the quantum world September 21st, 2018

Viral RNA sensing: Optical detection of picomolar concentrations of RNA using switches in plasmonic chirality September 21st, 2018

UT engineers develop first method for controlling nanomotors: Breakthrough for nanotechnology as UT engineers develop first method for switching the mechanical motion of nanomotors September 21st, 2018

Nanobiotix: Update on Head and Neck Phase I/II Trial with NBTXR3 and Other program data presented at ImmunoRad 2018 September 20th, 2018

Photonics/Optics/Lasers

Halas wins American Chemical Society Award in Colloid Chemistry: Rice University nanophotonics pioneer honored for colloid research September 18th, 2018

Tiny camera lens may help link quantum computers to network September 14th, 2018

New photonic chip promises more robust quantum computers September 14th, 2018

Laser sintering optimized for printed electronics: New study sheds (laser) light on the best means of laying down thin-film circuitry September 13th, 2018

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project