New nanofabrication method could be as great as the invention of the printer

Northwestern University researchers used beam-pen lithography to draw 15,000 copies of the Chicago skyline with impressive precision and speed.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

Researchers have developed a new way to fabricate designs on the nano-scale. The technique might change the industry the same way printing changed the information age.

Enter beam-pen lithography, or BPL for short.

Chad A. Mirkin, director of Northwestern's International Institute for Nanotechnology said, "the analogy with the desk top printer is a good one. It has the potential to do for micro- and nanofabrication what the desk top printer did for printing and information transfer."

The Northwestern researchers expect this technology to be used to make:

  • prototype circuits
  • optoelectronics
  • medical diagnostics
  • electronics
  • photonics

In this experiment, the researchers made 15,000 copies of the Willis Tower and the John Hancook Center in Chicago. It only took 30 minutes to pattern the Chicago skyline.

What makes BPL unique is that ink isn't used. Instead, BPL draws patterns using light on light-sensitive materials.

Each skyline design had 182 dots and was drawn by one of the 15,000 pens.

The researchers had a great deal of control over the pattern. The pens had tips shaped like pyramids. Additionally, the tips were coated in gold with a little bit removed. This helped focus the light onto a certain point.

"When a researcher wants a device, he or she can make it in their lab with beam pen, instead of commissioning the fabrication of a mask and then an outside multi-million dollar fab to produce it. It complements our previous ink based approaches using Dip Pen Nanolithography. Both are important," Mirkin said.

Current methods such as electron-beam lithography can make small structures but fall short of fabricating things on a large-scale.

"BPL is a low cost, scalable nanofabrication method. It will compete with e-beam lithography and allow one to do point-of-use fabrication of electronic devices," he added.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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