Large Area Scanning-Probe Nanofabrication Platform

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Chemistry

Abstract

Thoroughout history, our ability to manipulate matter has always been one of the cornerstones of human progress, from the synthesis of drug molecules by chemical reactions, to the building of the largest skyscrapers. Currently, there is great interest in nanotechnology, the science of constructing and studying objects at nanometre scales (a billionth of a metre). Research in this area has shown that when materials are reduced down to this size scale, or have alterations to their shape at this length, entirely new properties can arise that are radically different from when they exist in a bulk form. By finding ways of harnessing these unusual properties, new technologies can be developed for improved electronic devices, medical tools and even construction materials.

Further progress in this area, however, requires the extension of our ability to construct objects at this scale over large areas while still maintaining nanometre scale control of the process. Such a capability would enable the production of large networks of nano-sized objects, which would allow new research into how these objects behave in relation to each other, rather than as individual objects on their own. The large area construction would also show how it would be possible to produce many objects at once, which will be important if they need to be made on an industrial scale.

Although large-area high-resolution patterning is possible using methods adapted from the electronics industry such as the processes that are used to make computer microchips, they have a number of disadvantages. They rely on harsh methods, for example high temperatures and corrosive chemicals, that limit the types of materials that can be used. As a result, it is often difficult to produce devices with complex designs made up of different materials. In particular, these methods are not compatible with delicate molecules from biology, such as DNA and proteins.

In this proposal, we wish to set up a type of instrument that uses "scanning probes". Each of these probes consists of a very sharp, nanometre-wide, tip that can be coated with a variety of chemical compounds. The instrument is also able to control the movement of this probe with nanometre precision. Thus, by moving this probe tip across a surface, it is possible to "write" nano-scale patterns by depositing the compound coated on the probe on to that surface. The movement of the probe can be controlled by the user, so it is possible for the user to write complex patterns such as circuits and even pictures.

For this particular instrument, the major advantage over other older designs is that it is able to use many probes, thousands or even millions, simultaneously. In doing so, it is therefore possible to write patterns with a wide range of chemical compounds, over large areas of surface with nanometre control. This would spark new research into many areas of science, from the production of highly miniaturised electronic devices for computing to disease diagnosis; efficient batteries for power storage; and surgical implants that can control the behaviour of tissues and cells.

Planned Impact

This instrument will give us the facility to generate any user-defined pattern with a variety of materials over large areas with nanometre resolution. Its generic usefulness will thus have an impact on research in many areas of science and engineering.

It will further our fundamental understanding of the physical, chemical and electronic properties of materials at this scale, which will in turn progress the development of new miniaturised electronic devices (e.g. fuel cells, sensors, diagnostics) to artificial surgical implants and tissues for regenerative medicine. In relation to the latter, the behaviour of human cells and tissues in contact with nanoarchitectured surfaces is relevant to researchers and regulatory authorities who have an interest in determining any potential health hazards of exposure to nanotechnology (i.e. nanotoxicology).

A key characteristic of this instrument is its ability to produce such nanoscale patterns over large areas through the parallelised writing of many probes, which in turn allows the fabrication of many nanostructures simultaneously. This type of "mass production" will offer a means to trial the scaling up of nanolithography towards commercial manufacturing levels, which is particularly important if this type of nanofabrication is to make a meaningful industrial impact. This capability will therefore benefit many companies interested in producing goods that have nanofabricated components. Indeed, the development of such scanning probe nanofabrication systems will be a significant step towards a low cost "desktop fab", which would allow access of a nanofabrication tool to a wider range of industries and researchers in the micro- (and nano-)machining sector for the rapid production and prototyping of nanoscale devices; and would be an alternative to the current high cost, energy intensive fabrication methods derived from the electronics industry.

In order to maximise the impact of this instrument, its user base will be drawn from across the range of scientific and engineering disciplines. In particular, engagement has been sought with a number of research centres and organisations to publicise the availability of this facility and to develop related research plans. These organisations include:
- The North West Nanoscience (NOWNANO) Doctoral Training Centre, based across the Universities of Manchester and Lancaster - To train new students in the use of state-of-the-art scanning probe nanolithography.
- The National Graphene Institute (NGI) - To progress the fundamental science of graphene and to improve the manufacturability of graphene-based technologies.
- The Welcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research (WTCCMR) - To explore the use of nanofabricated surfaces for cellular manipulation, leading to improved therapies for a variety of disorders.
- The UK Centre for Tissue Engineering (UKCTE), based at the Department of Clinical Engineering, University of Liverpool - To develop artificial tissues and implants for therapeutic purposes and tissue analogues as a substitute for animal testing.
- The Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC), representing NW regional industries - To apply scanning probe lithography for the development of new products and processes that are relevant to the client companies.

More generally, this instrument will contribute to the UK's position as a major participant in the field of nanotechnology. Research in this and related areas will facilitate the exposure and training of a new generation of interdisciplinary scientists in nanotechnology that will be well equipped to harness the potential economic and social benefits arising from their research.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have developed a nanofabrication instrument to enable the rapid "writing" of nanometre-scale features on surfaces with a variety of materials. This instrument is able to generate user defined patterns of individual features from as small as 15 nm (routinely < 100 nm) to several microns, over 10's of cm^2 areas (routinely 1-4 cm^2).
Exploitation Route This advanced equipment is being used by a number of researchers to produce nanofabricated surfaces for other applications. For example, to use for the culturing of human stem cells, and the development of miniaturised biosensors.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description In the process of developing the main objectives of this project, we also developed some software that enables the alignment of the instrumentation. This software has now been marketed by UMIP: http://www.click2go.umip.com/i/software/Biomedical_Software/afm.html
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Other
Impact Types Economic

 
Description British Council Newton Fund Institutional Links
Amount £149,933 (GBP)
Funding ID 216196834 
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 09/2018
 
Description Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF)
Amount £49,499 (GBP)
Funding ID 105610/Z/14/Z 
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Department Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2015 
End 03/2016
 
Description Leverhulme Project Grant
Amount £173,787 (GBP)
Funding ID RPG-2014-292 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2015 
End 04/2018
 
Description Project Grant
Amount £225,287 (GBP)
Funding ID RPG-2014-292 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2015 
End 04/2018
 
Description UMRI Pump Priming Fund
Amount £31,199 (GBP)
Organisation University of Manchester 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 08/2015
 
Title Automated Alignment of Probe Arrays for Large-Area Scanning Probe Nanolithography 
Description The precision and versatility afforded by scanning probe microscopy has enabled the development of a variety of methods for the facile fabrication of user-defined patterns on a variety of surfaces with nanoscale resolution. Historically, the major limitation of such scanning-probe nanolithography has been the inherently low throughput of single probe instrumentation, which has been addressed by the use of "two-dimensional" arrays of multiple probes for parallelised nanolithography. Key to the successful implementation of such arrays is a means to accurately align them relative to the substrate surface, such that all probes come into contact with the surface simultaneously upon the commencement of lithography. Here, an algorithm for the rapid, accurate and automated alignment of an array is described in the context of polymer pen lithography. This automation enables the alignment of the array of probes within minutes, without user intervention. Subsequent nanolithography of thiols on gold substrates demonstrated the generation of features over large (cm2) areas with high uniformity. Example features were 66.5 ± 9.8 and 71.3 ± 9.3 nm in size across a distance of 1.4 cm, indicating any misalignment as =0.0003°. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This software was subsequently marketed by click2go (http://www.click2go.umip.com/) and published in an RSC Advances paper. 
 
Description Universiti Putra Malaysia (Dr. S. A. Alang Ahmad) 
Organisation Putra Malaysia University
Department Institute of Biosciences
Country Malaysia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Nanofabrication of DNA arrays and surface analysis of arrays.
Collaborator Contribution Production of DNA-nanoparticle conjugates and testing of diagnostic assays.
Impact Delivered two seminars at UPM in 2012 and 2016.
Start Year 2016
 
Description University of Liverpool (J M Curran) 
Organisation University of Liverpool
Department School of Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Access to scanning probe nanolithography equipment and expertise on its use.
Collaborator Contribution Materials characterisation and cell culture facilities and expertise on its use.
Impact Ongoing
Start Year 2015
 
Title Algorithm for automated probe array alignment for use with scanning probe nanolithography 
Description The precision and versatility afforded by scanning probe microscopy has enabled the development of a variety of methods for the facile fabrication of user-defined patterns on a variety of surfaces with nanoscale resolution. Historically, the major limitation of such scanning-probe nanolithography has been the inherently low throughput of single probe instrumentation, which has been addressed by the use of "two-dimensional" arrays of multiple probes for parallelised nanolithography. Key to the successful implementation of such arrays is a means to accurately align them relative to the substrate surface, such that all probes come into contact with the surface simultaneously upon the commencement of lithography. Here, an algorithm for the rapid, accurate and automated alignment of an array is described in the context of polymer pen lithography. This automation enables the alignment of the array of probes within minutes, without user intervention. Subsequent nanolithography of thiols on gold substrates demonstrated the generation of features over large (cm2) areas with high uniformity. Example features were 66.5 ± 9.8 and 71.3 ± 9.3 nm in size across a distance of 1.4 cm, indicating any misalignment as =0.0003°. 
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted 2016
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact Algorithm used by researchers using the scanning probe nanolithography equipment at the University of Manchester
 
Title AFM Multiprobe Alignment Software 
Description This is software enables the automated alignment of multiprobe arrays on scanning probe microscope systems, which enables reproducible nanolithography by these instruments. 
Type Of Technology Systems, Materials & Instrumental Engineering 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact The software has been marketed by UMIP. See URL link below. 
URL http://www.click2go.umip.com/i/software/Biomedical_Software/afm.html
 
Description Visit to Institute of Materials Research and Engineering A*STAR Singapore, Dec 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visited IMRE to deliver seminar and meet with local researchers at that institution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016