Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors



Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


android tablet pc

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

New non-invasive method can detect Alzheimer's disease early: MRI probe technology shows brain toxins in living animals for first time December 22nd, 2014

Piezoelectricity in a 2-D semiconductor: Berkeley Lab researchers discovery of piezoelectricty in molybdenum disulfide holds promise for future MEMS December 22nd, 2014

Quantum physics just got less complicated December 22nd, 2014

Enzyme Biosensor Used for Rapid Measurement of Drug December 22nd, 2014

Thin films

'Giant' charge density disturbances discovered in nanomaterials: Juelich researchers amplify Friedel oscillations in thin metallic films November 26th, 2014

New way to move atomically thin semiconductors for use in flexible devices November 13th, 2014

Graphene Frontiers Partners with Madico to Accelerate Material Production: Deal to ignite and fulfill demand for industrial scale graphene film that supports energy, consumer electronics, membranes/filtration, solar and other applications November 12th, 2014

New materials for more powerful solar cells: Major breakthrough in solar energy November 11th, 2014

NEMS

Piezoelectricity in a 2-D semiconductor: Berkeley Lab researchers discovery of piezoelectricty in molybdenum disulfide holds promise for future MEMS December 22nd, 2014

Carbyne morphs when stretched: Rice University calculations show carbon-atom chain would go metal to semiconductor July 21st, 2014

LetiDays Grenoble to Present Multiple Perspectives on Development, Challenges and Markets for the IoT April 14th, 2014

Columbia engineers make world's smallest FM radio transmitter: Team demonstrates new application of graphene using positive feedback November 18th, 2013

Possible Futures

A novel method for identifying the body’s ‘noisiest’ networks November 19th, 2014

Researchers discern the shapes of high-order Brownian motions November 17th, 2014

VDMA Electronics Production Equipment: Growth track for 2014 and 2015 confirmed: Business climate survey shows robust industry sector November 14th, 2014

Open Materials Development Will Be Key for HP's Success in 3D Printing: HP can make a big splash in 3D printing, but it needs to shore up technology claims and avoid the temptation of the razor/razor blade business model in order to flourish November 11th, 2014

MEMS

Piezoelectricity in a 2-D semiconductor: Berkeley Lab researchers discovery of piezoelectricty in molybdenum disulfide holds promise for future MEMS December 22nd, 2014

MEMS Industry Group's 10th Annual Executive Conference Showcases Rapid Innovation in MEMS/Sensors: Emphasizes Spirit of Collaboration, Supporting First Open-Source Algorithm Community, New Standardization Efforts November 10th, 2014

MEMS & Sensors Technology Showcase: Finalists Announced for MEMS Executive Congress US 2014 October 23rd, 2014

IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting To Celebrate 60th Anniversary as The Leading Technical Conference for Advanced Semiconductor Devices September 18th, 2014

Self Assembly

Revealed: How bacteria drill into our cells and kill them December 2nd, 2014

Live Images from the Nano-cosmos: Researchers watch layers of football molecules grow November 5th, 2014

Outsmarting Thermodynamics in Self-assembly of Nanostructures: Berkeley Lab reports method for symmetry-breaking in feedback-driven self-assembly of optical metamaterials November 4th, 2014

NYU Researchers Break Nano Barrier to Engineer the First Protein Microfiber October 23rd, 2014

Nanoelectronics

Stacking two-dimensional materials may lower cost of semiconductor devices December 11th, 2014

Defects are perfect in laser-induced graphene: Rice University lab discovers simple way to make material for energy storage, electronics December 10th, 2014

Nanoscale resistors for quantum devices: The electrical characteristics of new thin-film chromium oxide resistors that can be tuned by controlling the oxygen content detailed in the 'Journal of Applied Physics' December 9th, 2014

'Giant' charge density disturbances discovered in nanomaterials: Juelich researchers amplify Friedel oscillations in thin metallic films November 26th, 2014

Discoveries

Mysteries of ‘Molecular Machines’ Revealed: Phenix software uses X-ray diffraction spots to produce 3-D image December 22nd, 2014

New non-invasive method can detect Alzheimer's disease early: MRI probe technology shows brain toxins in living animals for first time December 22nd, 2014

Piezoelectricity in a 2-D semiconductor: Berkeley Lab researchers discovery of piezoelectricty in molybdenum disulfide holds promise for future MEMS December 22nd, 2014

Enzyme Biosensor Used for Rapid Measurement of Drug December 22nd, 2014

Announcements

New non-invasive method can detect Alzheimer's disease early: MRI probe technology shows brain toxins in living animals for first time December 22nd, 2014

Piezoelectricity in a 2-D semiconductor: Berkeley Lab researchers discovery of piezoelectricty in molybdenum disulfide holds promise for future MEMS December 22nd, 2014

Quantum physics just got less complicated December 22nd, 2014

Enzyme Biosensor Used for Rapid Measurement of Drug December 22nd, 2014

Photonics/Optics/Lasers

Scientists reveal breakthrough in optical fiber communications December 21st, 2014

Atom-thick CCD could capture images: Rice University scientists develop two-dimensional, light-sensitive material December 20th, 2014

Nanoshaping method points to future manufacturing technology December 11th, 2014

Stacking two-dimensional materials may lower cost of semiconductor devices December 11th, 2014

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




  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More










ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







© Copyright 1999-2014 7th Wave, Inc. All Rights Reserved PRIVACY POLICY :: CONTACT US :: STATS :: SITE MAP :: ADVERTISE