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Advance on Nanotech Dip Pen - The Nano Plotter 47

Posted by Hemos
from the i-love-eureka-alert dept.
techtrend writes "In an article on Eurekalert, Northwestern chemists report making the world's smallest plotter, a device capable of drawing multiple lines of molecules -- each line only 15 nanometers or 30 molecules wide -- with such precision that only five nanometers. They lay down a grid of lines made of 16-mercaptohexadecanoic acid (MHA). Then dots of octadecanethiol (ODT) are placed at pre-calculated positions using the grid for precision positioning. They plan to use this process to make ultrahigh density arrays of different organic and biological material and nanostructures. "
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Advance on Nanotech Dip Pen - The Nano Plotter

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  • Optical lithology draws all the lines and circuits on wafer simultaneously. A line draw method such as this article is serial and may take forever to draw the billions of logical devices you can fit on a single silicon wafer these days.
    That's true, lithography is a bulk process that acts on Avogadro's number of molecules at once, and this is a one-at-a-time operation. The nanotech literature [xerox.com] addresses this problem by assuming that there will be Avogadro's number of robot arms operating simultaneously. That scenario is a long way off, but theoretically feasible.

    The need for vast numbers of robot arms is why the literature spends so much time discussing self-replication [xerox.com], the only way to make the whole proposition economical. Until we have that, things like this will remain laboratory curiosities.

    There are some ideas kicking around [std.com] about exploiting the self-replicative abilities of cells, rather than waiting until humans are competent to design a real replicator. That's a hard engineering problem, and it might take a long time.

  • Be sure to scan your next EULA with an electron-scanning microscope before you open the package.

    --
    It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?
  • Just to note that "nanotechnology" in the real world doesn't tend to mean "self-replicating"... and hive-mind computers have never come up in any conference on nanostructures *I've* ever attended. Most of them have focussed on obscure properties of doping or conductivity or fringe quantum effects. Science fiction, for the most part, has a highly unrealistic and improbable take on nanotechnology...
  • Simple Answer: Take the blue pill.
  • Whoa! Ease up there pilgrim. This is in essence a press release. They still have to mention various important aspects of this, like speed. Also this little beauty is kind of misleading "relatively inexpensive tool (an atomic force microscope)". To get an industrial application out of this you are going to have to do this process in parallel a few hundred times, this is going to be expensive.

    Still, you are right and there is serious money to be made. I think that there some very interesting hurdles to be cleared. 1) The substrate (gold) is conductive and ill suited to electronics (to say the least). 2) I wonder how uniform the applied layers of "ink" are? If they are not uniform then stacking several layers on top of one another could get pretty ugly.

    woof
  • I imagine you could. As another poster mentioned, the ramifications are enormous. You could engineer new, stronger chemical substances and build objects layer by layer and create some really great stuff. (yes, faster processors is one thing, RAM, denser storage media, so forth and so on).. but the applications aren't limited to simply "computer" technology. This _is_ technology.. technology that we should use to model, explore, control, build.. design beyond our wildest dreams...

    I can't wait til they start developing this past the "look-we-can-do-it" stage and into the "look-what-we-can-do-with-it" stage(s).
  • rde groused:
    One thing that grated about the article; speaking about four-colour nanolithography. When you're dealing with molecules, colour loses its meaning, as the wavelength of visible light is up to twenty-five times the width of the line being drawn. Of course, you could draw lots of lines, but that'd take a hell of a long time.

    I think they're talking about the method, not the result. Four-colour lithography depends on having chemically distinct dots Real Close Together.

    Another reason to think in terms of four 'colours' is the famous topological theorem.
  • "While nanotechnoligy is just the minitureazation (sp?) of todays technology, quantum technology is totally diffrent, works on diffrent principals and will make nanotechnoligy obselete."

    Nanotechnology ISN`T minitureazition, maybe this Dip Pen is, but real nanotechnology goes the other way around, building big things from single atoms.

    Nanotechnology also is so much more than just making computers, nanocomputers is just one possible application. The technologys biggest potential is manufacturing of just about everything, from spacerockets to food, and the breaktrough is supposed to be when we can build self-replicating assemblers(a.k.a. nanobots) who can build items and dublicate themselfs from atoms, and therefore be able to grow exponetially in number.
    Quantum computing and nanotechnology is absolutely _not_ mutually exclusive, and quantum computing is probably going to be realised USING nanotechnology. It could also be a possibility that we have easier realising nanotechnology with help from the increased computing power of quantum computing, its all about which one comes first..

    It seems like many of you /.-ers are a little too much focused on the computing possibilities of new technology and doesnt see the whole picture.
  • Pretty standard technology these days. It's called 'stereolithography' and you can by machines that turn 3D CAD data into physical models. Not cheap, but it *is* off the shelf hardware.


    ...phil

  • quantum technology is
    totally diffrent, works on diffrent principals and will make nanotechnoligy obselete.


    s/diffrent/different

    Oh, what the heck, I'll tell my friends not to buy computers just yet :)

    As the saying goes: Show us the processor.
    In the meanwhile, I'll consider nanoprocessing "sufficient".
  • It's been done on a larger scale. Remember the mouse with the human ear embedded in it's back? That ear was made with a 3D printer. The matrix created by the printer provided a backbone for the mouse's flesh to grow over. Research is ongoing to use this to create replacement parts for humans. I only hope It will be easier to get parts for myself than it is for my Leyland Marina.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah, but how many pages per minute and is it Windows-compatible? :-) [Sorry, couldn't resist.]
  • GuidoDKP wisely observed:
    People have been predicting the death of visible-light lithography for years now, but it's so useful that people keep coming up with ways to extend its life -- I think the latest enhancement was the use of phase-shifted interference patterns to draw features with visible light that were smaller than the wavelength of the light used...

    Yup, phase-shifting is the latest trick but it's been pushed about as far as it can go. (My employer uses it and little bitty polygons are what I get paid for, at least in part.) Although "visible light" is a stretch when you're talking about ultraviolet.

    Spiffy ultrahigh resolution line-drawing is monumentally valuable, though, if only as a means of producing those next-generation mask sets.
  • We should keep in mind what other forms of lithography are available and what constitutes a viable mass-produced fabrication method.

    Currently, e-beam lithography can do 30 nm linewidths regularly, but no one is soiling their underwoos about it. Why? Because it's slow and your resolution drops when you try to expand the writing field (i.e., writing at a smaller magnifications). Then there are alignment issues, etc. All of these issues are applicable to 'dip pen lithography' as well and should be mentioned. Also, while this form of lithography is novel, and in it's own way neat, we still have to remember that IBM and a number of other research labs have been writing with single atoms (see http://www.almaden.ibm.com/vis/stm/stm.html).

    I'm probably biased in all of this since the 'dip pen' guy is down the hall (literally) and my expertise is e-beam lithography and quantum transport, but when considering this sort of lithography in relation to computing, you have to think about useful electrical transport properties (although i know a lot of you may be touting mesoscopic nonlinear optics as the 'next wave') and it's all still very speculative and people are working very hard on these ideas.

    Anyhow, all of this quantum computing talk bugs me, too, because it's really really really hard to implement real honest-to-goodness qubits. As far as I know they can now factor numbers on the order of 15. literally. And this difficulty in extending the range this does not scale linearly.

    my 2x10^-2 [$].


  • Heck, I'm starting to look around and see what it takes to get into the field, just because I think I'd rather help bring it around than just sit and hope.

    Start with the Foresight Institute [foresight.org] .
    Make sure you read the Nanotech Study Guide [foresight.org] .
    Then go to the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing [imm.org] .
    Also look at Zyvex [zyvex.com] , a company founded to develop molecular nanotechnology.
    For fun, read Neal Stephenson's DIAMOND AGE [amazon.com] and Michael Flynn's NANOTECH CHRONICLES [amazon.com] .

    Good luck.

  • Respectfully, thinking entirely of the future, it seems to me...

    That nanotechnology is what will allow a quantum computer to fit in your watch.

    -- "So far, I have not found the science" - Soul Caughing
  • Not necessarily. It's not enough to be small to be the king of lithography -- you also have to be fast. X-ray lithography can already build insanely small circuits, but the problem is that it's a single beam. Imagine how long it would take to draw 5 million transistors on 10 layers with a pencil.

    For all its limitations, photolithography can do an entire layer on multiple chips all in one shot. The more transistors you add, the faster it gets relative to a beam-method of drawing.

    This plotter, although it looks very cool, also looks like its still drawing lines, as opposed to exposing portions of a wafer.

    People have been predicting the death of visible-light lithography for years now, but it's so useful that people keep coming up with ways to extend its life -- I think the latest enhancement was the use of phase-shifted interference patterns to draw features with visible light that were smaller than the wavelength of the light used...
  • Another reason to think in terms of four 'colours' is the famous topological theorem.
    Oh, yeah. Should have thought of that. Sorry.
  • Just a thought...
    I might be a bit more nervous about strapping myself in within a foot or so of thousands of little explosions per minute. And think of my children! What an evil parent I must be to position them within feet of gallons of highly explosive gasoline!

    Not so much the gasoline and internal combustion that makes me nervous, but rather the number of accidents that occur every day. New technology is cool, old technology tends to be taken for granted; people don't always think responsibly.

    On the whole, automobiles are pretty useful. If people just acted a little more responsibly, we eouldn't have nearly so many problems. I'm sure nanotech will have some problems, but that's no reason to shun it. Instead we should work out those problems and move ahead.

    I'm not sure if I like the idea of incredibly tiny machines self-replicating..by themselves they probably don't have much individual intelligence, but as a collective..(or is this one of the aims of nanotechnology, to build `hive' computer minds?)

    Is that a bit of a Frankenstein Complex I hear? Are you afraid of intelligence just because it's not human? Why is this a bad thing?

  • >Is that a bit of a Frankenstein Complex I hear? Are you afraid of
    > intelligence just because it's not human? Why is this a bad thing?
    You make an excellent point..perhaps I do have a "Frankenstin Complex" of sorts, too many sci fi books, novels, more than likely *grin*

    Perhaps it's as you say, it's something `new', so it's feared..automobiles were probably very much feared in their time, and not just by farriers and carriage makers..

    Myself, I'm not in danger of being driven out of work by nanotechnology or artificial intelligences..hopefully not driven out of life.

    Peace, (please excuse crappy formatting, if any)
  • Here let me pop the 2003 release of the Library of Congress into my wrist top! Of course, at the current exponential increase in data production (i.e. knowledge)it may be quarter size when it becomes available.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Science = news for nerds.

    There's more to life (and to stuff that matters) than linux. :)
  • I can actually put the whole book on a single piece of paper. And to think of all the years I spent actually learning.
  • Move over IBM, this is the next generation storage technology. Coupling a few dozen nanobots to lay out 101101011010101001011010 onto a surface and then using some kind of modified electron microscope would certainly have storage densities in the terabyte/inch range. And we already have an encoding scheme for it (CDROM-style)!

    It it just me, or does it seem to you like Rob posts related articles like this just to see if we'd see the relationship? :^)

    --

  • This seems nice for printed 'organic circuits' and such (2D), but could it be extended to build 3D objects?

    One could imagine a process where you build up a 3D object layer by layer.

    -josh
  • Now that nanotechnology is getting into the exponential-growth part of the curve, I'm just looking forward to see the first nanodetectors:
    You could use nanosensors spread along the way of capilar chromatographic tubes to monitor all the components in their way out of the column and to notice about the existence of components which get trapped into the column in order to increment the temperature. Also you could program your chromatograph to increment the temperature depending of the separation being achieved through the column.
    Nanodetectors should (for their nanosize) be able to detect even smaller quantities of substances. We could instead of using a regular-sized detector use an array of nanodetectors and read from all of them in parallel so we can get rid of noice by statistical means while at the same time detecting small quantities of substances which with the regular-sized detectors just get lost into the noise or improve the acuracy of their measurement.
    We could also use nano interferometer-diode arrays to scan with unprecedent acuracy and sample rate many wave lengths at the same time.Then we will need a Beowulf just to get the spectrum from each of the nano interferograms in a way real-time relative to the sample rate.
  • These guys could end up buying MICROS~1 out of petty cash. From the sounds of it they've found the semiconductor fabrication Philosopher's Stone: a way to do sub-X-ray physical patterns. Right now semiconductor feature sizes are in the 120+ nanometer range and severly limited by quantum optical effects. If they can lay down a precise grid at 15 nm and use it to sharpen up the lithography, they are going to own the semiconductor industry.
  • I seem to recall NASA already had a 3D prototyping tool.
    I don't recall too many details, but it basically relied on converging two lasers into an bath of epoxy resin which was gradually raised up, providing the third dimension.
    I'd guess that if NASA was allowed to go private, it would find it a heck of a lot easier to work with these guys, and merge the technologies... Now _that_ would be scary! Anybody prepared to make a wild swinging guess at how long it will _really_ be before we have Star Trek style replicators? Imagine that, come home from the pub on a Saturday, chuck a bucket of dirt into a hopper and sit down to steak & chips... All without the risk of setting fire to your kitchen! :)
    Now, if only they'll sort out this longevity gene business so I'm around to witness it... ;)
  • This is an interesting invention. This will also aid in the development of nanotechnoligy. This will probably be the next generation of computers. But.....
    There is something better, smaller, more powerful then any computer know to man....Quantum computing.
    While nanotechnoligy is just the minitureazation (sp?) of todays technology, quantum technology is totally diffrent, works on diffrent principals and will make nanotechnoligy obselete.
    That's my $(2^4*3+1/7%3*2/100)
  • And they hint at it too. Think about it. You chemically engineer a substance with an insane amount of conductivity. With this you can make all the switches and gates small enough to fit a modern microchip in an extremely small space (I don't know much about chips; anyone want to math out the proportions?). You're killing two bottleneck birds with one stone; they run faster because the current can move across the switch faster, and because you can fit more switches into less space. Gigahertz? We'll be measuring in TERRAHERTZ . . . though I'd imagine we're still at minimum 6 years away from being able to use this technology, even if Intel and AMD started today. Just further evidence that the leaps and bounds of technology we've seen this century will continue well into the next.


    And (start groaning now) imagine the Beowulf cluster . . . ;-)
  • I think you should read Hemos' home page [hemos.net]. That might clue you in. ;^)
  • The way I see it, it's just one Hemos reporting a story on nanotechnology because he's utterly fascinated with it, he helps run the site, he has posting privileges, ergo, if he hears something new about nanotechnology, he's going to post it. *shrug* Personally, I have reservations about nanotechnology, I don't think it's `wrong' or `bad' or `evil' or any of that, just that it might be another case of "Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should." Every new technology has benefits and drawbacks, and I'm sure nanotechnology is no different.

    If I weren't at work right now, I'd write a long, rambling essay about my concerns with nanotechnology, but to briefly summarize, I'm not sure if I like the idea of incredibly tiny machines self-replicating..by themselves they probably don't have much individual intelligence, but as a collective..(or is this one of the aims of nanotechnology, to build `hive' computer minds?)

    Second, I really just don't like the idea of tiny machines within my body, it's just a personal hangup, though, nothing more, I know a lot of you other geeks would have no problem jacking the internet or a computer into your skull, or having infrared version or `nanites' in your circulatory system that destroy excessive clogging of your arteries, etc. Even though, yes, one could extend one's lifespan/live more comfortably with all of these "enhancements", they too would have drawbacks and as I'm mostly happy with who and what I am in this lifetime, I don't see much reason for me ever getting an `upgrade' (urf! This *did* turn into a rambling essay!) Er, crap, my boss just walked in anyway, gotta run ;) )


    Peace,
  • We may not all live forever, but by golly if things keep up this way, there's a distinct chance that we will.

    One thing that grated about the article; speaking about four-colour nanolithography. When you're dealing with molecules, colour loses its meaning, as the wavelength of visible light is up to twenty-five times the width of the line being drawn. Of course, you could draw lots of lines, but that'd take a hell of a long time.

    Is this nitpicking? I don't mean it to be; I'm just wondering why chemists would mention something that's patently irrelevent. I do think it's cool. Honest.
  • I seem to recall NASA already had a 3D prototyping tool.
    I don't recall too many details, but it basically relied on converging two lasers into an bath of epoxy resin which was gradually raised up, providing the third dimension


    Yes ultraviolet lasers that cure an epoxy resin on a base. Gradually the base is lowered and the cured layers build up to produce a 3D object. But this produces macroscopic objects.

    Once could imagine a similar process using this nano-lithographic process to produce microscopic 3D objects.

    -josh
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You can find an AP story on this at Yahoo [yahoo.com], which should be fairly impervious to the /. effect.
  • To some extent 3-d molecular objects have been made with carbon atoms in the particular case of the buckminsterfullerine or "bucky ball" which is becoming more widely produced not so much as a machine per se...but possible as a passive object such as a lubricant since it seems fairly durable. Some have suggested that these bucky balls can also be used as a molecular "scaffolding" for the assembly of nanomachine parts...though this claim to me sounds like it is going to need a little more work before I'd hold my breath.
  • I think I'd rather help bring it around than just sit and hope.
    The first, biggest thing to do is to further your education. Physics and chemistry are good places to start. Rambling conjectures on nanotech tend to assume that nothing is impossible, but nanotech will be bound by physical law like every other technology.

    An excellent area for contribution is design software. Currently there are a number of excellent free molecular modeling packages: MMTK [skyport.net], NAMD [uiuc.edu], Moldy [ox.ac.uk], NWchem [pnl.gov]. There are also several excellent display programs: RasMol [umass.edu], VMD [uiuc.edu], Midas [ucsf.edu], and my own feeble effort, xyz2rgb [std.com]. What is still lacking is:

    • Software to generate structures painlessly. Two efforts in this area are CavityStuffer [sri.com] by Markus Krummenacker, DiamondCAD [zyvex.com] by Chris Phoenix and John Michelsen, and some tinkering [std.com] of mine.
    • Some kind of wrapper that makes all this stuff easy to use. There is a commercial package called HyperChem [hyper.com], and the DiamondCAD folks are working on an open-source version called OpenChem [openchem.org].
    And if you really want to go wild with this stuff, get a job at Zyvex [zyvex.com].
  • I see people commenting on how this can make semiconductors better, or storage media better, etc...

    Look at the bigger picture. Those are going to be SMALL concerns as molecular nanotechnology keeps developing. They'll be more side-effects than main purposes.

    This is one of the reasons I keep checking Slashdot often - nanotechnology, assuming there aren't any barriers to it, is going to be the final industrial revolution. We'll be able to control matter like we do information, and the world is going to change in ways nobody can predict or expect. And I'm looking forward to seeing it happen in my lifetime. Heck, I'm starting to look around and see what it takes to get into the field, just because I think I'd rather help bring it around than just sit and hope.

    This is the kind of thing that has incredible future ramifications. If you thought the invention of the transistor was big, you should realize that we're watching them approach a discovery that is magnitudes bigger.
    ---
  • Second, I really just don't like the idea of tiny machines within my body, it's just a personal hangup, though, nothing more

    My dad has a pacemaker. My wife has a cochlear implant. If cars and internal combustion engines weren't so universal, I might be a bit more nervous about strapping myself in within a foot or so of thousands of little explosions per minute. And think of my children! What an evil parent I must be to position them within feet of gallons of highly explosive gasoline!

    Seriously, new technology often seems scary, and we have to be cautious with at first. But over time, as the risk-takers try it and it gets made safer, it becomes so universal we don't even think about it.

"Bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments

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