Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Water Droplets direct Self-assembly Process in Thin-film Materials

You can think of it as origami – very high-tech origami.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a technique for fabricating three-dimensional, single-crystalline silicon structures from thin films by coupling photolithography and a self-folding process driven by capillary interactions.

The films, only a few microns thick, offer mechanical bendability that is not possible with thicker pieces of the same material.

“This is a completely different approach to making three-dimensional structures,” said Ralph G. Nuzzo, the G. L. Clark Professor of Chemistry at Illinois. “We are opening a new window into what can be done in self-assembly processes.”

Nuzzo is corresponding author of a paper accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is to be posted on the journal’s Early Edition Web site the week of November 23.

As a demonstration of the new capillary-driven, self-assembly process, Nuzzo and colleagues constructed spherical and cylindrical shaped silicon solar cells and evaluated their performance.

The researchers also developed a predictive model that takes into account the type of thin film to be used, the film’s mechanical properties and the desired structural shape.

“The model identifies the critical conditions for self-folding of different geometric shapes,” said mechanical science and engineering professor K. Jimmy Hsia. “Using the model, we can improve the folding process, select the best material to achieve certain goals, and predict how the structure will behave for a given material, thickness and shape.”

To fabricate their free-standing solar cells, the researchers began by using photolithography to define the desired geometric shape on a thin film of single-crystalline silicon, which was mounted on a thicker, insulated silicon wafer. Next, they removed the exposed silicon with etchant, undercut the remaining silicon foil with acid, and released the foil from the wafer. Then they placed a tiny drop of water at the center of the foil pattern.

As the water evaporated, capillary forces pulled the edges of the foil together, causing the foil to wrap around the water droplet.

To retain the desired shape after the water had fully evaporated, the researchers placed a tiny piece of glass, coated with an adhesive, at the center of the foil pattern. The glass “froze” the three-dimensional structure in place, once it had reached the desired folded state.

“The resulting photovoltaic structures, not yet optimized for electrical performance, offer a promising approach for efficiently harvesting solar energy with thin films,” said Jennifer A. Lewis, the Thurnauer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the university’s Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory.

Unlike conventional, flat solar cells, the curved, three-dimensional structures also serve as passive tracking optics by absorbing light from nearly all directions.

“We can look forward from this benchmark demonstration to photovoltaic structures made from thin films that behave as though they are optically dense, and much more efficient,” Lewis said.

The new self-assembly process can be applied to a variety of thin-film materials, not just silicon, the researchers noted in their paper.

With Nuzzo, Hsia and Lewis, co-authors of the paper are graduate students Xiaoying Guo and Huan Li, and postdoctoral researchers Bok Yeop Ahn and Eric B. Douss.

Hsia is associate dean of the Graduate College and is affiliated with the university’s Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory.

Lewis is affiliated with the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering and the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory.

Nuzzo is affiliated with the Institute for Genomic Biology, the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, the materials science and engineering department, and the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation funded the work.

James E. Kloeppel | University of Illinois
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>