New instrument to guide research at the nanoscale

Researchers will soon have the opportunity to make devices as small as 600 nanometers with a new lithography tool at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis.

Parag Banerjee, assistant professor of materials science, received a $361,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase a Direct Write Laser lithography tool for use in the Institute of Materials Science & Engineering cleanroom facilities at WashU. Co-recipients of the award are Mark Meacham, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science; Viktor Gruev; visiting associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois; and Erik Henriksen, assistant professor of physics in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The instrument allows the researchers to make patterns of 2-D and 3-D micro- and nanoscale features on various surfaces, such as a silicon wafer, using a fine computer-guided laser beam to “write” on a material covered with a light-sensitive film. Once the pattern is imprinted, the film can be used as a mast to remove underlying material.

“When you reduce dimensions, strange things happen to materials,” Banerjee said. “With this instrument, it will be possible to design and incorporate materials into devices that are quite small – 600 nanometers small.”

Six hundred nanometers is .0006 millimeters.

Banerjee and Meacham, who teach a graduate-level course in micro- and nanofabrication in the cleanroom at the Institute of Materials Science & Engineering, will incorporate the machine into the curriculum.

Researchers from other institutions in the region — Saint Louis University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Missouri University of Science and Technology and Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Edwardsville — supported the project and also will be able to use the instrument for their research.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 90 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.