January 22, 2016

Self-stacking nanogrids

On the top row are two images of a nanomesh bilayer of PDMS cylinders in which the top layer
is perpendicular to the complex orientation of the bottom layer. The bottom images show
well-ordered nanomesh patterns of PDMS cylinders. The images on the right show
zoomed-in views of the images on the left. Courtesy of the researchers

(January 22, 2016)  Polymer nanowires that assemble in perpendicular layers could offer route to tinier chip components.

Since the 1960s, computer chips have been built using a process called photolithography. But in the past five years, chip features have gotten smaller than the wavelength of light, which has required some ingenious modifications of photolithographic processes. Keeping up the rate of circuit miniaturization that we’ve come to expect — as predicted by Moore’s Law — will eventually require new manufacturing techniques.

Block copolymers, molecules that spontaneously self-assemble into useful shapes, are one promising alternative to photolithography. In a new paper in the journal Nature Communications, MIT researchers describe the first technique for stacking layers of block-copolymer wires such that the wires in one layer naturally orient themselves perpendicularly to those in the layer below.

The ability to easily produce such “mesh structures” could make self-assembly a much more practical way to manufacture memory, optical chips, and even future generations of computer processors.

“There is previous work on fabricating a mesh structure — for example our work,” says Amir Tavakkoli, a postdoc in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics and one of three first authors on the new paper. “We used posts that we had fabricated by electron-beam lithography, which is time consuming. But here, we don’t use the electron-beam lithography. We use the first layer of block copolymer as a template to self-assemble another layer of block copolymer on top of it.”

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