Chemistry Researchers Advance Patterning Nanotechnology

Dr. John Fourkas, Dr. Amy Mullin and Dr. Daniel Falvey have been awarded a $1.5 million dollar National Science Foundation grant to fund cutting-edge research on Scalable Nanomanufacturing. The team, which includes Dr. Gottleib Oehrlein from the Department of Material Science & Engineering, uses three beams of visible light of different wavelengths to produce nanoscale features with the improved resolution required to produce high-density integrated circuits.

Moore’s Law, a mathematical rule, predicts that storage capacity on a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. Without new breakthroughs, the limits of this rule are about to be reached, because current technology cannot achieve sub-20-nm resolution.

This three-color photolithography method is designed for scalable, large-area, low-cost nanomanufacturing, and promises fundamentally new ways to put more information in even smaller spaces with the improved resolution required to produce high-density integrated circuits. In conventional approaches, one color of light is used to initiate the chemistry, and a second color is used to arrest it.  A two-color method has limited spatial resolution because the initiation of the chemistry competes with the deactivation. In the three color method, however, one color of light pre-activates the chemistry, a second color of light deactivates the molecules, and a third color of light transforms pre-activated molecules into activated molecules that then undergo chemistry. This approach provides a viable path to attaining sub-20-nm resolution for scalable nanomanufacturing in two and three dimensions. Because visible light is inexpensive to produce, propagate and manipulate, the method has the potential to lower the cost of cutting-edge nanomanufacturing by a factor of 10 or more.

Major industrial developers and end-users will be part of the project team’s collaborative process so that the transfer of this technology into practice can provide a major boost to American competitiveness in scalable nanomanufacturing. The new types of photochemistry that are being created through this work will help keep future products from being prohibitively expensive, keeping the cheap production benefit alive.

Additionally, this project team, by virtue of blending the disciplines of Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, and Materials Engineering has created, and will continue to create over the life of the grant, an exceptional learning environment for their students by involving them in a true academic and industrial interdisciplinary collaboration.

Dominik Meltzer, a Materials Science and Engineering graduate student in this group, thinks this is an important opportunity.

“This [work] has helped make me more adaptable and nimble in my thinking.” Said Meltzer.