Variable linewidth nanolithography

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Scanning probe lithography is often used to form mask-less patterns on a surface using a purpose-built ‘probe’. In the case of nanolithography, such probes can be configured with a sufficiently sharp tip to enable the creation of nanoscale features. Conventionally, such tips must be replaced in order to achieve varying levels of precision. However, researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a new technique using nanolithographic methods to form patterns using a single probe with tunable precision. A patent application directed to the new technology has been filed and OUI are seeking commercial partners to take the new scanning probes to market.

Nanolithography is a method used to etch, write or print onto a material surface in the range of 10-9 to 10-6 meteres or structures in the nanometre range. Over the years, several lithographic techniques have been developed for patterning in the nanoscale region. Electron-beam lithography and scanning probe nanolithography are a few techniques often used in research environments.

Scanning probe lithography is often used to form mask-less patterns typically by etching a surface using a purpose-built ‘probe’. In the case of nanolithography, such probes can be configured with a sufficiently sharp tip to enable the creation of nanoscale features. However, whilst extremely small-scale patterns and features can be formed using a nanoscale tip, it can be very difficult to tune the degree of precision a scanning probe can deliver. Often it is the case that a desired surface pattern requires different levels of precision for its various features and using a single sharp tip on a scanning probe is not optimal. Use of a single sharp tip can limit the speed and efficiency of nanolithography processes.

One way to address the above problem is to utilise an array of different scanning tip probes, each with a different tip sharpness. However, such a configuration would require ongoing recalibration each time a new probe is swapped in which is time consuming and prone to errors.

Researchers in the Department of Materials at Oxford have developed new nanolithography techniques to address the above-mentioned limitations with conventional methods. Through the creation of a novel scanning tip design, the researchers have created a nanolithography system in which a tuneable precision can be achieved on a surface using a single probe. In cases where multiple passes of a probe would normally be required to create a feature on a substrate, only a single pass is required. Further, the probe design enables the scanning tips to be larger than in conventional probes and thereby reduce the rate of tip wear.

So far, several scanning tip probes incorporating the new design have been fabricated and used in-house. Oxford University Innovation is seeking commercial partners to further develop and sell scanning tip probes based on the new designs. A patent application directed to the new technology has been filed and so an exclusive sales channel for these new scanning probes would be possible.

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