ARCHIVED - Nano Imprint Lithography: A Giant Leap for Miniature Manufacturing

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August 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

Nano imprint lithography (NIL), a way of inexpensively manufacturing miniature devices, could become a critical production process for information technology, medicine and environmental science. Manufacturing cheap, reliable miniaturized transistors and biological sensors will put Canada's industries at the international forefront of high tech industries. Canada has the critical mass of research and manufacturing expertise to develop this technology, as exemplified by the NIL team at the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI).

NRC scientists are using a cutting-edge nanolithography hot embosser (shown here) to create new biohazard detection and medical diagnosis technologies.
NRC scientists are using a cutting-edge nanolithography hot embosser (shown here) to create new biohazard detection and medical diagnosis technologies.

"With NIL we can have an economic impact in many areas" says Dr. Michel Dumoulin, Director of the Advanced Materials Program at NRC-IMI. "NIL is ideal for developing advanced sensors. These can be used not only for detecting DNA or genetic diseases, we need to have sensors in the environment, and we need to have sensors for defence. Canada can play a major role in the development of these technologies. NIL is re-inventing the Guttenburg press, but at the nanometer scale, "Dumoulin adds. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

Professor Stephen Chou at Princeton University invented NIL to overcome a fundamental limitation in semiconductor manufacturing. Photolithography, the standard way of creating computer chips, uses light to trace patterns onto silicon chips. However, the spreading of light due to diffraction limits the potential to miniaturize patterns smaller than 60 nanometers with photolithography. Although it is possible to break through this size limit by using an electron beam, the infrastructure would cost billions of dollars.

Graphical representation of the NIL.
Graphical representation of the NIL.

"Instead of using projection, as does photolithography, NIL uses the conformal deformation of soft materials," says Teodor Veres of NRC-IMI. "We heat the polymer above a transition temperature at which it's not yet liquid but is very soft. With the polymer at this temperature, we press the mold and cool it down. The polymer becomes hard and we separate the mold. All the patterns on the mold are transferred on to the polymer so you can create patterns as small as two to three nanometers in size."

Examples of NIL.
Examples of NIL.

This technology isn't only a breakthrough for the semi-conductor industry; the use of NIL to accurately and inexpensively reproduce patterns on a tiny scale has many other applications in medicine, defence, environmental science, solar energy and data storage.

"At NRC, we were looking at changes in the economic and scientific landscape," says Dr. Blaise Champagne, NRC-IMI Director General "Polymers are now commodities manufactured in Asia. How can we re-orient our traditional activity in polymer fabrication and formulation at NRC-IMI? Since NIL is a low-cost method, there is huge interest with different partners from around the world to transfer efforts from the science side to the technology."

The NRC-IMI group worked with the NRC Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI), to find the background materials that helped them shape their development strategy across many different areas of research. "The collaboration with NRC-CISTI was very important," says Teodor Veres, Group leader, Functional Nanomaterials. "With their help we made extensive searches to orient ourselves." As a result of this re-orientation, Veres' team is developing distinct NIL techniques to create an array of different products. For example, a proposed NRC-IMI collaboration with the Canadian Light Source synchrotron in Saskatoon will use x-ray beams to create complex three-dimensional micro-and nano-devices.

A NRC-IMI collaboration with Genome Canada uses NIL to develop inexpensive, extremely sensitive biodiagnostic sensors. "Sensors need to be precise, cheap and easy to fabricate. It's very important to have a platform to fabricate devices with nano-structured surfaces," says Veres. "Imagine that you have one square centimeter of a very flat surface to bind to a molecule. If I structure the same one centimeter with pyramids having a base of 100 nanometers, it's now a 3D structure with a 1000 times greater surface area. Now you can link many more molecules to that surface, which makes the sensor much more sensitive." This project involves a collaboration with NRC researchers B. Simard and A. Nantel, as well as University of Laval researchers M. Bergeron, M. Leclerc, and D. Boudreau.

These and other partnerships have enabled NRC-IMI NIL facility to become a leader in the development of this technology. As a result, the facility has attracted talented young collaborators from around the world, including McGill University's Neil Cameron, Emmanuel Roy from the Laboratoire LPN of the CNRS in Paris, Boris Le Brogoff from Montreal's Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Matthias Geisller from IBM, Switzerland and Gerardo Diaz from the NRC Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences in Ottawa.

In June, 2005 NRC President Dr. Pierre Coulombe announced funding for the creation of North America's first NIL prototyping facility, to be built at NRC-IMI. According to Veres, NRC-IMI's partnership with Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance was crucial to this achievement.

"It is important to create linkages. Being early in the game is very important, but you have to sustain it. We hope to serve the community by building a prototyping facility, to go beyond just the research and the national programs to try and serve the industry."

To nurture and expand this network, in July, 2005 NRC-IMI hosted its second annual NIL workshop. More than 150 representatives of industry, government and academia from around the world attended the event in Montreal to share their knowledge and experience and advance the practice of NIL . Coinciding with the renowned Montreal Jazz Festival, the workshop was sub-titled: NanoFab and All that Jazz.

What's clear is that NRC-IMI has a nano-sized future — on a giant scale.

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