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Posts Tagged ‘spintronics’

Research Alert: February 17, 2015

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

A new spin on spintronics

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Western Michigan University is exploring new materials that could yield higher computational speeds and lower power consumption, even in harsh environments.

Most modern electronic circuitry relies on controlling electronic charge within a circuit, but this control can easily be disrupted in the presence of radiation, interrupting information processing. Electronics that use spin-based logic, or spintronics, may offer an alternative that is robust even in radiation-filled environments.

Making a radiation-resistant spintronic device requires a material relevant for spintronic applications that can maintain its spin-dependence after it has been irradiated. In a paper published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing, the Michigan research team presents their results using bulk Si-doped n-GaAs exposed to proton radiation.

How Does Spintronics Work?

Modern electronic devices use charges to transmit and store information, primarily based upon how many electrons are in one place or another. When a lot of them are at a given terminal, you can call that ‘on.’ If you have very few of them at the same terminal, you can call that ‘off,’ just like a light switch. This allows for binary logic depending on whether the terminal is ‘on’ or ‘off.’ Spintronics, at its simplest, uses the ‘on/off’ idea, but instead of counting the electrons, their spin is measured.

“You can think of the spin of an electron as a tiny bar magnet with an arrow painted on it. If the arrow points up, we call that ‘spin-up.’ If it points down, we call that ‘spin-down.’ By using light, electric, or magnetic fields, we can manipulate, and measure, the spin direction,” said researcher Brennan Pursley, who is the first author of the new study.

While spintronics holds promise for faster and more efficient computation, researchers also want to know whether it would be useful in harsh environments. Currently, radioactivity is a major problem for electronic circuitry because it can scramble information and in the long term degrade electronic properties. For the short term effects, spintronics should be superior: radioactivity can change the quantity of charge in a circuit, but should not affect spin-polarized carriers.

Studying spintronic materials required that the research team combine two well established fields: the study of spin dynamics and the study of radiation damage. Both tool sets are quite robust and have been around for decades but combining the two required sifting through the wealth of radiation damage research. “That was the most difficult aspect,” explains Pursley. “It was an entirely new field for us with a variety of established techniques and terminology to learn. The key was to tackle it like any new project: ask a lot of questions, find a few good books or papers, and follow the citations.”

Technically, what the Michigan team did was to measure the spin properties of n-GaAs as a function of radiation fluence using time-resolved Kerr rotation and photoluminescence spectroscopy. Results show that the spin lifetime and g-factor of bulk n-GaAs is largely unaffected by proton irradiation making it a candidate for further study for radiation-resistant spintronic devices. The team plans to study other spintronic materials and prototype devices after irradiation since the hybrid field of irradiated spintronics is wide open with plenty of questions to tackle.

Long term, knowledge of radiation effects on spintronic devices will aid in their engineering. A practical implementation would be processing on a communications satellite where without the protection of Earth’s atmosphere, electronics can be damaged by harsh solar radiation. The theoretically achievable computation speeds and low power consumption could be combined with compact designs and relatively light shielding. This could make communications systems faster, longer-lived and cheaper to implement.

Novel solid-state nanomaterial platform enables terahertz photonics

Compact, sensitive and fast nanodetectors are considered to be somewhat of a “Holy Grail” sought by many researchers around the world. And now a team of scientists in Italy and France has been inspired by nanomaterials and has created a novel solid-state technology platform that opens the door to the use of terahertz (THz) photonics in a wide range of applications.

During the past decade, materials research has played an essential role in filling the THz gap, beginning with the development of THz quantum cascade lasers, which rely heavily on semiconductor heterostructured artificial nanomaterials. The development of THz spectroscopy, nanospectroscopy and THz imaging expanded the range of powerful tools for the characterization of a broad range of materials — including one-dimensional or two-dimensional semiconductors, biomolecules and graphene.

The missing piece? A complementary detection technology capable of fulfilling THz application-oriented needs in fields such as biomedical diagnostics, security, cultural heritage, quality and process controls, and high data-rate wireless communications that require ad hoc integrated generation and detection systems.

As the scientists report in the journal APL Materials, from AIP publishing, by using an approach that exploits the excitation of plasma waves in the channel of field-effect transistors (FET), they were able to create the first FET detectors based on semiconductor nanowires, designed in a plethora of architectures — including tapers, heterostructures and metamaterial-antenna coupled. While they were at it, they also developed the first THz detectors made of mono- or bi-layer graphene.

“Our work shows that nanowire FET technology is versatile enough to enable ‘design’ via lithography of the detector’s parameters and its main functionalities,” explained Miriam Serena Vitiello, lead author of the paper as well as research scientist and group leader of Terahertz Photonics Group in the Nanoscience Institute at CNR and Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy.

What’s the nanowire detector capable of? It offers “a concrete perspective of application-oriented use, since it operates at room temperature — reaching detection frequencies greater than 3 THz, with maximum modulation speed in the MHz range, and noise equivalent powers that are already competitive with the best commercially available technologies,” Vitiello said.

In terms of applications, because the nanodetectors can be tapped for large-area fast imaging across both the THz and the sub-terahertz spectral ranges, don’t be surprised to see them commercialized in the near future for a variety of spectroscopic and real-time imaging applications — possibly even in the form of fast multi-pixel THz cameras.

Next, the scientists’ goals are to “push the device’s performance in the ultrafast detection realm, explore the feasibility of single photon detection by using novel architectures and material choices, develop compact focal plane arrays, and to integrate on-chip the nanowire detectors with THz quantum cascade microlasers,” noted Vitiello. “This will allow us to take THz photonics to a whole new level of ‘compactness’ and versatility, where it can finally begin to address many killer applications.”

Novel crumpling method takes flat graphene from 2-D to 3-D

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a unique single-step process to achieve three-dimensional (3D) texturing of graphene and graphite. Using a commercially available thermally activated shape-memory polymer substrate, this 3D texturing, or “crumpling,” allows for increased surface area and opens the doors to expanded capabilities for electronics and biomaterials.

“Fundamentally, intrinsic strains on crumpled graphene could allow modulation of electrical and optical properties of graphene,” explained SungWoo Nam, an assistant professor of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois. “We believe that the crumpled graphene surfaces can be used as higher surface area electrodes for battery and supercapacitor applications. As a coating layer, 3D textured/crumpled nano-topographies could allow omniphobic/anti-bacterial surfaces for advanced coating applications.”

Graphene–a single atomic layer of sp2-bonded carbon atoms–has been a material of intensive research and interest over recent years. A combination of exceptional mechanical properties, high carrier mobility, thermal conductivity, and chemical inertness, make graphene a prime candidate material for next generation optoelectronic, electromechanical, and biomedical applications.

“In this study, we developed a novel method for controlled crumpling of graphene and graphite via heat-induced contractile deformation of the underlying substrate,” explained Michael Cai Wang, a graduate student and first author of the paper, “Heterogeneous, Three-Dimensional Texturing of Graphene,” which appeared in the journal Nano Letters. “While graphene intrinsically exhibits tiny ripples in ambient conditions, we created large and tunable crumpled textures in a tailored and scalable fashion.”

“As a simpler, more scalable, and spatially selective method, this texturing of graphene and graphite exploits the thermally induced transformation of shape-memory thermoplastics, which has been previously applied to microfluidic device fabrication, metallic film patterning, nanowire assembly, and robotic self-assembly applications,” added Nam, whose group has filed a patent for their novel strategy. “The thermoplastic nature of the polymeric substrate also allows for the crumpled graphene morphology to be arbitrarily re-flattened at the same elevated temperature for the crumpling process.”

“Due to the extremely low cost and ease of processing of our approach, we believe that this will be a new way to manufacture nanoscale topographies for graphene and many other 2D and thin-film materials.”

The researchers are also investigating the textured graphene surfaces for 3D sensor applications.

“Enhanced surface area will allow even more sensitive and intimate interactions with biological systems, leading to high sensitivity devices,” Nam said.

Research Alert: September 3, 2014

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

A new, tunable device for spintronics

Spin-charge converters are important devices in spintronics, an electronic which is not only based on the charge of electrons but also on their spin and the spin-related magnetism. Spin-charge converters enable the transformation of electric into magnetic signals and vice versa. Recently, the research group of Professor Jairo Sinova from the Institute of Physics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in collaboration with researchers from the UK, Prague, and Japan, has for the first time realized a new, efficient spin-charge converter based on the common semiconductor material GaAs.

Comparable efficiencies had so far only been observed in platinum, a heavy metal. In addition, the physicists demonstrated that the creation or detection efficiency of spin currents is electrically tunable in a certain regime. This is important when it comes to real devices. The underlying mechanism, that was revealed by theoretical works of the Sinova group, opens up a new approach in searching and engineering spintronic materials. These results have recently been published in the journal Nature Materials.

Making use of electron spin for information transmission and storage, enables the development of electronic devices with new functionalities and higher efficiency. To make real use of the electron spin, it has to be manipulated precisely: it has to be aligned, transmitted and detected. The work of Sinova and his colleagues shows, that it is possible to do so using electric fields rather than magnetic ones. Thus, the very efficient, simple and precise mechanisms of charge manipulation well established in semiconductor electronics can be transferred to the world of spintronic and thereby combine semiconductor physics with magnetism.

Now, Sinova and his colleagues have shown that gallium-arsenide (GaAs), a very common and widely used semiconductor material, can be an as efficient spin-charge converter as platinum, even at room temperature, which is important for practical applications. Moreover, the physicists have demonstrated for the first time that the efficiency can be tuned continuously by varying the electric field that drives the electrons.

The reason for this – as theoretical calculations of the Sinova group have shown – lies in the existence of certain valleys in the conduction band of the semiconductor material. One can think of the conduction band and its valleys as of a motor highway with different lanes, each one requiring a certain minimum velocity. Applying a higher electric field enables a transition from one lane to the other.

Since the spin-orbit coupling is different in each lane, a transition also affects the strength of the spin-hall effect. By varying the electric field, the scientists can distribute the electron spins on the different lanes, thus varying the efficiency of their spin-charge converter.

By taking into account the valleys in the conduction band, Sinova and his colleagues open up new ways to find and engineer highly efficient materials for spintronics. Especially, since current semiconductor growth technologies are capable of engineering the energy levels of the valleys and the strength of spin-orbit coupling, e.g. by substituting Ga or As with other materials like Aluminum.

Copper shines as flexible conductor

By turning instead to copper, both abundant and cheap, researchers at Monash University and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication have developed a way of making flexible conductors cost-effective enough for commercial application.

“Aerogel monoliths are like kitchen sponges but ours are made of ultra fine copper nanowires, using a fabrication process called freeze drying,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Wenlong Cheng, from Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

“The copper aerogel monoliths are conductive and could be further embedded into polymeric elastomers – extremely flexible, stretchable materials – to obtain conducting rubbers.”

Despite its conductivity, copper’s tendency to oxidation and the poor mechanical stability of copper nanowire aerogel monoliths mean its potential has been largely unexplored.

The researchers found that adding a trace amount of poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) to their aerogels substantially improved their mechanical strength and robustness without impairing their conductivity.

What’s more, once the PVA was included, the aerogels could be used to make electrically conductive rubber materials without the need for any prewiring. Reshaping was also easy.

“The conducting rubbers could be shaped in arbitrary 1D, 2D and 3D shapes simply by cutting, while maintaining the conductivities,” Associate Professor Cheng said.

The versatility extends to the degree of conductivity. “The conductivity can be tuned simply by adjusting the loading of copper nanowires,” he said. “A low loading of nano wires would be appropriate for a pressure sensor whereas a high loading is suitable for a stretchable conductor.”

Affordable versions of these materials open up the potential for use in a range of new-generation concepts: from prosthetic skin to electronic paper, for implantable medical devices, and for flexible displays and touch screens.

They can be used in rubber-like electronic devices that, unlike paper-like electronic devices, can stretch as well as bend. They can also be attached to topologically complex curved surfaces, serving as real skin-like sensing devices, Associate Professor Cheng said.

In their report, published recently in ACS Nano, the researchers noted that devices using their copper-based aerogels were not quite as sensitive as those using gold nanowires, but had many other advantages, most notably their low-cost materials, simpler and more affordable processing, and great versatility.

Competition for graphene

A new argument has just been added to the growing case for graphene being bumped off its pedestal as the next big thing in the high-tech world by the two-dimensional semiconductors known as MX2 materials. An international collaboration of researchers led by a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has reported the first experimental observation of ultrafast charge transfer in photo-excited MX2 materials. The recorded charge transfer time clocked in at under 50 femtoseconds, comparable to the fastest times recorded for organic photovoltaics.

“We’ve demonstrated, for the first time, efficient charge transfer in MX2 heterostructures through combined photoluminescence mapping and transient absorption measurements,” says Feng Wang, a condensed matter physicist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the University of California (UC) Berkeley’s Physics Department. “Having quantitatively determined charge transfer time to be less than 50 femtoseconds, our study suggests that MX2 heterostructures, with their remarkable electrical and optical properties and the rapid development of large-area synthesis, hold great promise for future photonic and optoelectronic applications.”

Wang is the corresponding author of a paper in Nature Nanotechnology describing this research. The paper is titled “Ultrafast charge transfer in atomically thin MoS2/WS2 heterostructures.” Co-authors are Xiaoping Hong, Jonghwan Kim, Su-Fei Shi, Yu Zhang, Chenhao Jin, Yinghui Sun, Sefaattin Tongay, Junqiao Wu and Yanfeng Zhang.

MX2 monolayers consist of a single layer of transition metal atoms, such as molybdenum (Mo) or tungsten (W), sandwiched between two layers of chalcogen atoms, such as sulfur (S). The resulting heterostructure is bound by the relatively weak intermolecular attraction known as the van der Waals force. These 2D semiconductors feature the same hexagonal “honeycombed” structure as graphene and superfast electrical conductance, but, unlike graphene, they have natural energy band-gaps. This facilitates their application in transistors and other electronic devices because, unlike graphene, their electrical conductance can be switched off.

“Combining different MX2 layers together allows one to control their physical properties,” says Wang, who is also an investigator with the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute (Kavli-ENSI). “For example, the combination of MoS2 and WS2 forms a type-II semiconductor that enables fast charge separation. The separation of photoexcited electrons and holes is essential for driving an electrical current in a photodetector or solar cell.”

In demonstrating the ultrafast charge separation capabilities of atomically thin samples of MoS2/WS2 heterostructures, Wang and his collaborators have opened up potentially rich new avenues, not only for photonics and optoelectronics, but also for photovoltaics.

“MX2 semiconductors have extremely strong optical absorption properties and compared with organic photovoltaic materials, have a crystalline structure and better electrical transport properties,” Wang says. “Factor in a femtosecond charge transfer rate and MX2 semiconductors provide an ideal way to spatially separate electrons and holes for electrical collection and utilization.”

Wang and his colleagues are studying the microscopic origins of  charge transfer in MX2 heterostructures and the variation in charge transfer rates between different MX2 materials.

“We’re also interested in controlling the charge transfer process with external electrical fields as a means of utilizing MX2 heterostructures in photovoltaic devices,” Wang says.

This research was supported by an Early Career Research Award from the DOE Office of Science through UC Berkeley, and by funding agencies in China through the Peking University in Beijing.

Research Alert: August 12, 2014

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

SRC, UC Davis explore new materials and device structures to develop next-generation “Race Track Memory” technologies

University of California, Davis researchers sponsored by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), a university-research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies, are exploring new materials and device structures to develop next-generation memory technologies.

The research promises to help data storage companies advance their technologies with predicted benefits including increased speed, lower costs, higher capacity, more reliability and improved energy efficiency compared to today’s magnetic hard disk drive and solid state random access memory (RAM) solutions.

Conducted by UC Davis’ Takamura Research Group that has extensive experience in the growth and characterization of complex oxide thin films, heterostructures and nanostructures, the research involves leveraging complex oxides to manipulate magnetic domain walls within the wires of semiconductor memory devices at nanoscale dimensions. This work utilized sophisticated facilities available through the network of Department of Energy-funded national laboratories at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“We were inspired by the ‘Race Track Memory’ developed at IBM and believe complex oxides have the potential to provide additional degrees of freedom that may enable more efficient and reliable manipulation of magnetic domain walls,” said Yayoi Takamura, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, UC Davis.

Existing magnetic hard disk drive and solid state RAM solutions store data either based on the magnetic or electronic state of the storage medium. Hard disk drives provide a lower cost solution for ultra-dense storage, but are relatively slow and suffer reliability issues due to the movement of mechanical parts. Solid state solutions, such as Flash memory for long-term storage and DRAM for short-term storage, offer higher access speeds, but can store fewer bits per unit area and are significantly more costly per bit of data stored.

An alternative technology that may address both of these shortcomings is based on the manipulation of magnetic domain walls, regions that separate two magnetic regions. This technology, originally proposed by IBM researchers and named ‘Race Track Memory,’ is where the UC Davis work picked up.

Notre Dame paper offers insights into a new class of semiconducting materials

A new paper by University of Notre Dame researchers describes their investigations of the fundamental optical properties of a new class of semiconducting materials known as organic-inorganic “hybrid” perovskites.

The research was conducted at the Notre Dame Radiation Laboratory by Joseph Manser, a doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, under the direction of Prashant Kamat, Rev. John A. Zahm Professor of Science. The findings appear in a paper in the August 10 edition of the journal Nature Photonics.

The term “perovskites” refers to the structural order these materials adopt upon drying and assembling in the solid state.

“Hybrid perovskites have recently demonstrated exceptional performance in solid-state thin film solar cells, with light-to-electricity conversion efficiencies approaching nearly 20 percent,” Manser said. “Though currently only at the laboratory scale, this efficiency rivals that of commercial solar cells based on polycrystalline silicon. More importantly, these materials are extremely easy and cheap to process, with much of the device fabrication carried out using coating and or printing techniques that are amenable to mass production. This is in stark contrast to most commercial photovoltaic technologies that require extremely high purity materials, especially for silicon solar cells, and energy-intensive, high-temperature processing.”

Manser points out that although the performance of perovskite solar cells has risen dramatically in only a few short years, the scientific community does not yet fully know how these unique materials interact with light on a fundamental level.

Manser and Kamat used a powerful technique known as “transient absorption pump-probe spectroscopy” to examine the events that occur trillions of a second after light absorption in the hybrid methylammonium lead iodide, a relevant material for solar applications. They analyzed both the relaxation pathway and spectral broadening in photoexcited hybrid methylammonium lead iodide and found that the excited state is primarily composed of separate and distinct electrons and holes known as “free carriers.”

“The fact that these separated species are present intrinsically in photoexcited hybrid methylammonium lead iodide provides a vital insight into the basic operation of perovskite solar cells,” Manser said. “Since the electron and hole are equal and opposite in charge, they often exist in a bound or unseparated form known as an ‘exciton.’ Most next-generation’ photovoltaics based on low-temperature, solution-processable materials are unable to perform the function of separating these bound species without intimate contact with another material that can extract one of the charges. ”

This separation process siphons energy within the light absorbing layer and restricts the device architecture to one of highly interfacial surface area. As a result, the overall effectiveness of the solar cell is reduced.

Pairing old technologies with new for next-generation electronic devices

UCL scientists have discovered a new method to efficiently generate and control currents based on the magnetic nature of electrons in semiconducting materials, offering a radical way to develop a new generation of electronic devices.

One promising approach to developing new technologies is to exploit the electron’s tiny magnetic moment, or ‘spin’. Electrons have two properties – charge and spin – and although current technologies use charge, it is thought that spin-based technologies have the potential to outperform the ‘charge’-based technology of semiconductors for the storage and process of information.

In order to utilise electron spins for electronics, or ‘spintronics’, the method of electrically generating and detecting spins needs to be efficient so the devices can process the spin information with low-power consumption. One way to achieve this is by the spin-Hall effect, which is being researched by scientists who are keen to understand the mechanisms of the effect, but also which materials optimise its efficiency. If research into this effect is successful, it will open the door to new technologies.

The spin-Hall effect helps generate ‘spin currents’ which enable spin information transfer without the flow of electric charge currents. Unlike other concepts that harness electrons, spin current can transfer information without causing heat from the electric charge, which is a serious problem for current semiconductor devices. Effective use of spins generated by the spin-Hall effect can also revolutionise spin-based memory applications.

The study published in Nature Materials shows how applying an electric field in a common semiconductor material can dramatically increase the efficiency of the spin-Hall effect which is key for generating and detecting spin from an electrical input.

The scientists reported a 40-times-larger effect than previously achieved in semiconductor materials, with the largest value measured comparable to a record high value of the spin-Hall effect observed in heavy metals such as Platinum. This demonstrates that future spintronics might not need to rely on expensive, rare, heavy metals for efficiency, but relatively cheap materials can be used to process spin information with low-power consumption.

As there are limited amounts of natural resources in the earth and prices of materials are progressively going up, scientists are looking for more accessible materials with which to develop future sustainable technologies, potentially based on electron spin rather than charge. Added to this, the miniaturization approach of current semiconductor technology will see a point when the trend, predicted by Moore’s law, will come to an end because transistors are as small as atoms and cannot be shrunk any further. To address this, fundamentally new concepts for electronics will be needed to produce commercially viable alternatives which meet demands for ever-growing computing power.

Research Alert: June 3, 2014

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Georgia Tech research develops physics-based spintronic interconnect modeling for beyond-CMOS computing

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers collaborating with and sponsored by Intel Corporation through the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) have developed a physics-based modeling platform that advances spintronics interconnect research for beyond-CMOS computing.

Spin-logic aims at reducing power consumption of electronic devices, thereby improving battery life and reducing energy consumption in computing for a whole range of electronic product applications from portable devices to data centers.

“After more than four decades of exponential growth in the performance of electronic integrated circuits, it is now apparent that improving the energy efficiency of computing is a primary challenge,” said Ian A. Young, a collaborator and co-author of the research and a Senior Fellow at Intel Corporation. “There is a global search for information processing elements that use computational state variables other than electronic charge, and these devices are being sought to bring in new functionalities and further lower the power dissipation in computers.”

One of the main motivations behind the search for a next-generation computing switch beyond CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) devices is to sustain the advancement of Moore’s Law. Nanomagnetic/spintronic devices provide a complementary option to electronics. The added functionality of this option includes the non-volatility of information on-chip, which is in essence a combination of logic and memory functions. However, to benefit from the increase in density of the on-chip devices, there has to be adequate connectivity among the switches—which is the focus of the Georgia Tech research.

Among the potential alternatives, devices based on nanoscale magnets in the field of spintronics have received special attention thanks to their advantages in terms of robustness and enhanced functionality. Magnets are non-volatile: their state remains even if the power to the circuit is switched off. Thus, the circuits do not consume power when not used—a very desirable property for modern tablets and smart phones.

One of the most important aspects of any new information processing element is how fast and power efficient they can communicate over an interconnect system with one another. In today’s CMOS chips, more energy is consumed communicating between transistor logic functions than actually processing of information. The Georgia Tech research has therefore focused on this important aspect of communicating between spin-logic devices and demonstrates that interconnects are an even more important challenge for beyond-CMOS switches.

To analyze spintronic interconnects, the Georgia Tech team and their Intel collaborators have developed compact models for spin transport in copper and aluminum—taking into account the scattering at wire surfaces and grain boundaries that become quite dominant at nanoscale dimensions. The research team has also developed compact models for the nanomagnet dynamic, electronic and spintronic transport through magnet to non-magnet interfaces, electric currents and spin diffusion. These models are all based on familiar electrical elements such as resistors and capacitors and can therefore be analyzed using standard circuit simulation tools such as SPICE.

New cost-effective nanoimprint lithography methodology improves ordering in periodic arrays from block copolymers

Block copolymers (BCPs) are the most attractive alternative to date for the fabrication of well-defined complex periodic structures with length scales below 100nm. Such small structures might be used in a wide range of technological applications but current available methods are very expensive, especially when those structures present length scales under 20nm.

A work led by the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2) Phononic and Photonic Nanostructures Group suggests a new method to produce hexagonal periodic arrays with high fidelity while reducing time and costs. ICREA Research Professor Dr Clivia M. Sotomayor Torres and Dr Claudia Simão conducted, together with the authors listed below, a work published in a recent issue of Nanotechnology and featured cover article.

The methodology consists on in situ solvent-assisted nanoimprint lithography of block copolymers, a technique which combines a top-down approach – nanoimprint lithography – with a bottom-up one – self-assembled block copolymers (bottom-up). The process is assisted with solvent vapors to facilitate the imprint and simultaneous self-assembly of high Flory-Huggins parameter BCPs, the ones that yield sub-15nm size features, in what has been called solvent vapors assisted nanoimprint lithography (SAIL).

SAIL is a scalable technique which has shown its efficiency over a large area of up to four square inches wafers. The resulting sample was analysed using different methods, including field emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM) and grazing-incidence small-angle x-ray scattering (GISAXS). The latter was performed at the Diamond synchrotron light source (UK) and allowed characterisation of structural features of the nanostructured polymer surfaces. It is the first time that GISAXS has been used to analyse a direct-nanoimprint BCP sample.

The results obtained with SAIL demonstrated an improvement in ordering of the nanodot lattice of up to 50%. It is a low cost, scalable and fast technique which brings self-assembled BCPs closer to their industrial application. These versatile materials are very interesting for applications such as storage devices, nano-electronics, low-k dielectrics or biochemical applications.

UT Dallas team creates flexible electronics that change shape inside body

Researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Tokyo have created electronic devices that become soft when implanted inside the body and can deploy to grip 3-D objects, such as large tissues, nerves and blood vessels.

These biologically adaptive, flexible transistors might one day help doctors learn more about what is happening inside the body, and stimulate the body for treatments.

The research is one of the first demonstrations of transistors that can change shape and maintain their electronic properties after they are implanted in the body, said Jonathan Reeder BS ’12, a graduate student in materials science and engineering and lead author of the work.

“Scientists and physicians have been trying to put electronics in the body for a while now, but one of the problems is that the stiffness of common electronics is not compatible with biological tissue,” he said. “You need the device to be stiff at room temperature so the surgeon can implant the device, but soft and flexible enough to wrap around 3-D objects so the body can behave exactly as it would without the device. By putting electronics on shape-changing and softening polymers, we can do just that.”

Shape memory polymers developed by Dr. Walter Voit, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering and an author of the paper, are key to enabling the technology.

The polymers respond to the body’s environment and become less rigid when they’re implanted. In addition to the polymers, the electronic devices are built with layers that include thin, flexible electronic foils first characterized by a group including Reeder in work published last year in Nature.

The Voit and Reeder team from the Advanced Polymer Research Lab in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science fabricated the devices with an organic semiconductor but used adapted techniques normally applied to create silicon electronics that could reduce the cost of the devices.

“We used a new technique in our field to essentially laminate and cure the shape memory polymers on top of the transistors,” said Voit, who is also a member of the Texas Biomedical Device Center. “In our device design, we are getting closer to the size and stiffness of precision biologic structures, but have a long way to go to match nature’s amazing complexity, function and organization.”

The rigid devices become soft when heated. Outside the body, the device is primed for the position it will take inside the body.

During testing, researchers used heat to deploy the device around a cylinder as small as 2.25 millimeters in diameter, and implanted the device in rats. They found that after implantation, the device had morphed with the living tissue while maintaining excellent electronic properties.

“Flexible electronics today are deposited on plastic that stays the same shape and stiffness the whole time,” Reeder said. “Our research comes from a different angle and demonstrates that we can engineer a device to change shape in a more biologically compatible way.”

The next step of the research is to shrink the devices so they can wrap around smaller objects and add more sensory components, Reeder said.


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