ARCHIVED - Gutenberg Press revisited: NRC's state-of-the-art "nanoimprint" facility

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June 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

This summer, Canada will take a giant step toward the mass production of tiny, nano-scale devices when NRC installs a modern-day Gutenberg Press – a $1.5 million high-throughput nanoimprint lithography (NIL) machine made by EV Group of Austria.

Located at the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) in Boucherville, Quebec, the new equipment represents the heart of what is North America's first NIL prototyping centre. It will allow NRC researchers to apply NIL technology to scale up the production of cheap and reliable nanostructured devices, such as miniature transistors and biosensors for use in emerging health, energy and environmental applications.

"Instead of patterning two or three wafers per hour, with the help of EV Group, we've developed an automated system that allows us to make 20 to 40 wafers per hour," says Dr. Teodor Veres, who leads the functional nanomaterials group at NRC-IMI. "This will allow us to go beyond proof-of-concept designs by helping Canadian companies to manufacture and commercialize nanotechnology products."

More than 500 years ago, the German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type and the printing press – innovations that helped increase literacy by feeding the growing demand for newspapers and books, and facilitated the scientific revolution.

"At the time, there was a critical need to increase the number of documents," says Dr. Veres. "Clerks and monks were writing them by hand."

"Now imagine an electron-beam being like a clerk's pen. It can write at the nano-scale, but only one letter at a time," he adds. "Just as a printing press lets you copy an entire book, NIL allows you to replicate an entire nano-sized pattern."

Invented at Princeton University in the 1990s, nanoimprint lithography involves the use of hard moulds with nano-sized features to stamp identical copies in a pliable polymer. "It's analogous to preparing waffles in a waffle iron, where you pour some batter in the appliance to generate the waffle pattern, and then cool it down," says Dr. Bo Cui, an NRC-IMI research associate who attended Princeton University when NIL was invented.

Researchers run a hot embossing experiment in NRC-IMI's NIL laboratory.
Researchers run a hot embossing experiment in NRC-IMI's NIL laboratory.

There are two approaches to nanoimprint lithography: hot embossing and ultraviolet. "In the hot embossing method, you trace a nano-scale pattern onto a silicon, glass or metal mould using e-beam or photolithography," says Dr. Veres. The mould is then heated and pressed against a soft thermoplastic polymer, transferring its pattern into the polymer. "The beauty of this technology is you can use the same mould hundreds or thousands of times, so it's a cost-effective way of creating nano-scale patterns."

The ultraviolet method involves a resin that is sensitive to UV light. "You press the resin against a transparent mould, and then shine a light to cure the resin," explains research associate Dr. Emmanuel Roy, an expert in the technique. "The electronics industry is particularly interested in this approach because it works at room temperature, and can achieve highly accurate alignment (down to 7 nm) for multiple lithography processes that are needed to fabricate complex nano-devices."

NRC-IMI researchers use both techniques. "In 2002, we installed the first hot embossing R&D machine in Canada," says Dr. Roy. "And a few years later, we installed UV imprint equipment."

In collaboration with researchers across NRC and at several Canadian universities, the NRC-IMI team has so far applied hot embossing NIL technology to these research challenges:

  • the development of ultra-sensitive, biological and chemical sensors to detect anthrax, cancer biomarkers and doping agents;
  • the development of microfluidic "lab-on-a-chip" devices for diagnosing respiratory viruses and infectious diseases; and
  • the development of a tissue engineering platform for re-constructing cornea, smooth muscle and skin tissues.
Functional Nanomaterials Group at NRC-IMI
Functional Nanomaterials Group at NRC-IMI

"Our group is quite new and we're starting from scratch, but we are already one of the major players in Canada in the field of nano-manufacturing," says Dr. Veres. His team also works with National Defence Canada, Genome Canada, Genome Quebec and various international collaborators, including the University of California at Irvine and Harvard University. As a result, "we're attracting more and more interest from the private sector."

"In the coming years, NIL will certainly have an important impact on Canada's biotech sector by allowing the manufacture of low-cost biosensors and microfluidic systems, which are necessary for many agricultural, environmental and biomedical applications," Dr. Veres concludes.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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