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August 7th, 2010
Today's microchips, communications gear, and medical diagnostics are typically made by writing nanoscale patterns over large areas of silicon wafers and other high-tech materials. The process is either extremely expensive or painfully slow, however. Now scientists have come up with a hybrid approach that could offer researchers a way to craft prototype nanoscale devices quickly and cheaply, speeding up the already blistering pace of developments in the field.
Now a team led by Chad Mirkin, a chemist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has combined near-field techniques with conventional photolithography to pattern large areas of silicon and other materials without an expensive fabrication facility. Mirkin's team previously pioneered a technique called polymer pen lithography, creating tiny plastic tips shaped like inverted pyramids, which use ink to write features onto a surface. Mirkin's new technique, called beam-pen lithography, uses similar tips made from a transparent polymer. The researchers coat all but the tips of their pyramids with a thin layer of gold. When they then shine light on the base of an array of pyramids, it passes through the polymer and out the tips onto a photosensitive layer atop a silicon surface.
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