IBM researchers in Switzerland have developed a patterning technique that lets them create structures as small as 15 nanometers. Using this nano patterning technique, the IBM researchers have created a three-dimensional replica of the Matterhorn, a famous mountain in the Swiss Alps, that's a little more than 25 nanometers high and a scale of 1 to 5 billion. For reference, a single nanometer is one millionth the length of a millimeter and a single human hair is on average 40,000 times wider than that of a nanometer. These researchers have also created a 3-D replica of the world that measures 22 by 11 micrometers which works out to a scale of about 1:11 billion. At this size, 1000 world maps could fit on a grain of salt.
How it Works
Atomic force microscopy is an extremely high-resolution type of scanning microscopy that is used to image, measure, and manipulate matter at nanoscale sizes. This scanning uses a physical probe to make master scans of specimens line by line. The nanopatterning technique used by IBM borrows the nanoscale tip from atomic force microscopy which is 500 nanometers in length and only a few nanometers wide at the tip. The surface of the material is scanned to a precision of a single nanometer and the nanoscale tip is superheated and will chisel out a predefined pattern. The map of the world created by the IBM researchers was carved out in 2 minutes and 23 seconds flat.
IBM hopes that one day nanopatterning will be used in the electronics, opto-electronics, medicine and life sciences industries. As a proof of concept the IBM researchers created a nanoscale pattern in silicone, which is the material used to make chips today. Carl Howe, director of anywhere research at the Yankee Group, sees the many possibilities of using nanopatterning technology in this industry.
"The size of chips is defined by how finely we can make structures on them, and IBM's showing that they can make these structures very fine and in 3-D at very small scales. We're building up more and more layers on a chip to make more and more transistors, so it's not only how wide and tall you can go but how thick you can make a chip,"