Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Top 20 Doctoral Program — National Research Council

Is There Still "Plenty of Room at the Bottom"? An Update on Nanomanufacturing and Where It's Going

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Cliff Henderson from Georgia Institute of Technology


Friday, March 28, 2014 - 10:30am to 11:30am



Richard Feynman in his now famous 1959 talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” envisioned a world of atomically precise manufacturing that would fuel advancements in information storage, computing, and other fields, though he had only a few rudimentary concepts of how to achieve such a goal at the time.  Move forward to 2014 where the semiconductor industry routinely manufactures circuit elements that are below 40 nm in size and the data storage industry is poised to manufacture and sell bit patterned media with even smaller elements.  While we have achieved many of the feats Feynman originally envisioned in his original talk, there is still plenty of room at the bottom in 2-D and 3-D geometries that cannot yet be accessed in a manufacturable way.  This talk will present a view of current nanomanufacturing capabilities and will highlight some of our work in developing materials and methods that can allow us to bridge the gap between current manufacturing capabilities and the dream of atomically precise manufacturing.

Underlying much of what we envision as nanomanufacturing for functional devices is the ability to form nanoscale two dimensional and three dimensional structures in various organic and inorganic materials.  For example, all modern electronic devices (e.g. computers, cell phones, tablets, etc.) rely on the use of microprocessors and memory devices that possess device circuit features smaller than 50 nm in size.  The critical and enabling technologies for mass producing such microelectronic  devices are the combination of lithographic materials, processes, and tools used to pattern the nanoscale device elements that constitute the transistor device active layers and the subsequent electrical interconnect layers.  However, continuing to scale such devices down in feature size faces a number of challenges in terms of the materials, tools, and economics of such micro- and nanofabrication technologies.  Solutions to these problems will require new materials and new material processing approaches.  The first part of this talk will review the current state of the art in such nanopatterning technologies and some of the current challenges being faced. The second part of the talk will address how we are applying chemical engineering, materials science, and synthetic chemistry concepts to develop solutions to these challenges.  We will first look at the property changes that occur in materials when they are confined to small geometric form factors (e.g. sub-50 nm wide polymeric photoresist lines), the difficulties these property changes can present, and the opportunities that such nanoscale behavior offers.  We will then look at the role self-assembly may play in the future of nanomanufacturing through the use of block copolymer directed self-assembly techniques.  In particular, the talk will highlight the synergy that is possible when experimental and molecular modeling approaches are combined to attack problems in material and process development at these near molecular length scales.  We will conclude with a quick discussion of the broader applications and opportunities for such nanomanufacturing technologies in other fields including membranes separations and solar energy.