Thursday, 16 April 2009

Nanochip technology could revolutionise medicine

Photons, instead of electrons, are key to a newly developed nanochip manufacture technique that is three times as precise as conventional methods.

The technique has been dubbed ‘absorption modulation’. It is based on photochromism, which is the ability of some materials to change their colour in response to certain wavelengths of light.

By exposing the photochromic material to patterns created by interfering beams of light, researchers have created lines just 36 nanometres wide -- approximately one-tenth as thick as the wavelength of light used to create them.

The patterned photochromatic material is then used on top of a conventional ‘photoresist’ that is used to coat a silicon wafer, forming a chip.

Lead researcher Rajesh Menon explained that the absorption modulation method creates patterns on a photoresist in a similar manner to how black and white photos are printed from negatives.

“We are creating an image of a pattern on a photosensitive material using light,” said Menon, who is a research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“[This is] analogous to old-school photography, but, of course at the nanoscale,” he said.

Menon expects his method to be competitive with scanning-electron-beam lithography, which is commonly used to pattern photoresists in today’s semi-conductor industry.

However, by using light instead of electrons, Menon said his technique could be faster, more accurate, and less likely to interfere with fragile samples such as biological samples.

The technology will be commercialised via an MIT spin-off company, LumArray. Already, the researchers have had ‘some discussion’ with chip manufacturers, and Menon expects to achieve commercial production within five years.

The researchers also are pursuing ways of using the technique to create even smaller patterns, down to the scale of individual molecules.

As well as paving the way for advances in nanophotonics, nanofluidics and nanoelectronics, the technology could significantly improve optical microscopy, allowing future researchers to make more detailed biological or material observations.

“The impact here could be substantial as this would enable biologists to peer at proteins with nanoscale resolution, potentially revolutionising medicine,” Menon said.


Bluey said...

nice piece thanks ..

liz said...

You're welcome! I'm glad you found it useful.