The researchers used an instrument called a transmission electron microscope to watch how nanowires made of silicon "nucleate," or begin to form, before growing into wires, said Eric Stach, an assistant professor of materials engineering at Purdue University.
The work is based at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center in the university's Discovery Park. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation through the NSF's Electronic and Photonic Materials Program in the Division of Materials Research.
The nucleation process can be likened to the beginning of ice forming in a pool of water placed in a freezer. The liquid undergoes a "phase transition," changing from the liquid to the solid phase.
"What's unusual about this work is that we are looking at these things on an extremely small scale," Stach said. "The three major findings are that you can see that the nucleation process on this small scale is highly repeatable, that you can measure and predict when it's going to occur, and that those two facts together give you a sense that you could confidently design systems to manufacture these nanowires for electronics."
It was the first time researchers had made such precise measurements of the nucleation process in nanowires, he said.
Findings will be detailed in a research paper appearing Friday (Nov. 14) in the journal Science. The paper was written by Purdue doctoral student Bong Joong Kim, Stach and IBM materials scientists Frances Ross, Jerry Tersoff, Suneel Kodambaka and Mark Reuter from the physical sciences department at the Watson Research Center.
The silicon nanowires begin forming from tiny gold nanoparticles ranging in size from 10 to 40 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. By comparison, a human red blood cell is more than 100 times larger than the gold particles.
The gold particles are placed in the microscope's vacuum chamber and then exposed to a gas containing silicon, and the particles act as a catalyst to liberate silicon from the gas to form into solid wires. The particles are heated to about 600 degrees Celsius, or more than 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, causing them to melt as they fill with silicon from the gas. With increasing exposure, the liquid gold eventually contains too much silicon and is said to become "supersaturated," and the silicon precipitates as a solid, causing the nanowire to begin forming.
"We found that there is a single nucleation event in each little droplet and that all of the nucleation events occur in a very controllable fashion," Stach said. "The implication is that if you are trying to create electronic devices based on these technologies, you could actually predict when things are going to start their crystal growth process. You can see that it's going to happen the same way every time, and thus that there is some potential for doing things in a repeatable fashion in electronics manufacturing."
Although the researchers studied silicon, the same findings could be applied to manufacturing nanowires made of other semiconducting materials. The electron microscope is the only instrument capable of observing the nanowire nucleation process, which would have to be a thousand times larger to be seen with a light microscope, Stach said.
Nanowires might enable engineers to solve a problem threatening to derail the electronics industry. New technologies will be needed for industry to keep pace with Moore's law, an unofficial rule stating that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles about every 18 months, resulting in rapid progress in computers and telecommunications. Doubling the number of devices that can fit on a computer chip translates into a similar increase in performance. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue shrinking electronic devices made of conventional silicon-based semiconductors.
"In something like five to, at most, 10 years, silicon transistor dimensions will have been scaled to their limit," Stach said.
Transistors made of nanowires represent one potential way to continue the tradition of Moore's law.
"Nanowires of silicon and things like gallium arsenide, gallium nitride or indium arsenide, or other types of exotic semiconductors, are being investigated as a step toward continuing to scale electronics down," Stach said. "If you want to manufacture devices made of nanowires, make them the same way every time on a 12-inch wafer, then you need to understand the basic physics of how to start their growth, the kinetics of their continued growth, how to quantify that, how to understand it. We are looking at all steps in nucleation."
One challenge to using nanowires in electronics will be replacing gold as a catalyst with other metals that are better suited for the electronics industry, Stach said.
The gold particles are created inside the microscope chamber, but future research may use gold nanoparticles manufactured to more uniform standards using a different technology.
The research was conducted using an IBM microscope. The researchers also are extending the observations using a transmission electron microscope at the Birck Nanotechnology Center to look at smaller nanoparticles.Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, email@example.com
Emil Venere | EurekAlert!
Researchers use light to remotely control curvature of plastics
23.03.2017 | North Carolina State University
TU Graz researchers show that enzyme function inhibits battery ageing
21.03.2017 | Technische Universität Graz
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences