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Penn Uses E-Beams To Create 'Nanogaps'

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania claim to have bridged a major obstruction in the creation of nanoscale electronics by developing a method of creating tiny gaps between electrodes.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania claim that they have bridged a major obstruction in the creation of nanoscale electronics by developing a method of creating tiny gaps between electrodes.

The development of so-called "nanogaps" will make it possible to make electrical contact to structures in the nanoscale world. The advent of “nanogaps” could have applications such as electronics, quantum computing and gene reading. In addition, nanoscale electronics could be used to create faster storage devices, semiconductors and microprocessor chips.

Researchers have already used “nanogaps” to measure electrical charge through several coupled nanocrystals, which are also referred to as quantum dots.

This research was funded through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Naval Research and the American Chemical Society.

"A number of people have proposed nanoelectronic devices that use nanogaps, but nobody has been able to create nanogaps reliably in practice," said Marija Drndic, an assistant professor in Penn's Department of Physics and Astronomy in the School of Arts and Sciences, in a statement.

"For the first time, we were able to make the world's smallest and cleanest nanometer gaps that can be imaged directly with atomic resolution,” Drndic said. “These nanogaps can be used to electrically connect small objects, such as an individual molecule."

To create these gaps, the university used electron-beam lithography. Their research succeeded where previous efforts failed because of the type of surface they used, that is, thin layers of silicon nitride.

"Electon beam lithography works on small scale, but it is limited down to about 10 nanometers." Drndic said. "It is not like drawing a line on a page; as an electron beam hits a material the electrons tend to scatter forward and backward, which makes it difficult to create tiny lines."

While other researchers focused on breaking small wires to create nanogaps, similar to how a fuse can be popped open, the Penn researchers went the opposite route, making the gaps directly.

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