Nanostructures out of the 3D printer

Nanostructures out of the 3D printer

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

In the nanometer range, complex, free-standing 3D architectures are very difficult to produce due to the required precision. A research team from the Christian Doppler Laboratory for the direct fabrication of 3D nanoprobes at Graz University of Technology has now further developed the technology in such a way that even complex three-dimensional nanostructures can be controlled and, above all, produced predictably. The scientists used Focused Electron Beam Induced Deposition (FEBID), which is already successfully used in the production of complex, but often flat nanostructures.

The individual layers, which are applied with the aid of FEBID-based 3D printing, adhere to almost any material and surface condition. On the one hand, this saves time. On the other hand, it also enables fabrication on uneven or rough surfaces. “This type of 3D nanoprinting opens up completely new playgrounds for science and industry,” enthuses Harald Plank, head of the CD laboratory.

With the new technology, tasks can be solved in the future where alternative nanofabrication methods such as electron beam lithography have so far failed. In purely theoretical terms, Plank explains, the new method can even be used to produce nanostructures on a pencil tip.

The method will be used in cooperation with industrial partners GETec Microscopy (Vienna) and Anton Paar GmbH (Graz) in the field of atomic force microscopy for the production of measuring probes with peak radii of less than 10 nanometres.

The printing process takes place in the vacuum chamber of electron microscopes. The functional gases are introduced with a fine needle near the sample. The gaseous molecules then adsorb on the surface and are chemically split and immobilised by the focused electron beam – they therefore remain in place through interaction with the electron beam.

Plank and his team were inspired by Lego bricks to print inclined structures: “In order to build an inclined architecture from Lego, the next higher layer of bricks must always be moved slightly. This is exactly what we have transferred to 3D nanoprinting: Before applying the next layer, we shift the electron beam and thus literally print diagonally upwards.”

To ensure that the new process does not remain a niche technology, the researchers in the CD laboratory want to develop a new software for 3D nanoprinting as the next step, with which complex nanostructures can be printed even without broad prior knowledge. Plank and his team have joined forces with the Oak Ridge National Laboratories (USA) and the Institute of Physics at the Goethe University Frankfurt (GER), which together with Graz University of Technology are among the leading research institutions in this field. This project also focuses on the extension of the process to 3D surfaces and multi-material structures in order to further increase the functionality and thus also the relevance of this technology in research and development.

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