Chemical reaction zips nanowires onto silicon

By Eric Smalley, Technology Research News

In science fiction, chain reactions often have dire consequences. In the real-life case of a molecular chain reaction that could become a key construction technique for nanoscale devices, the reaction promises to stay contained on silicon chips.

Scientists at the National Research Council of Canada have devised a reaction that produces straight, single-molecule-wide lines across silicon surfaces. The organic molecule lines could be used as molecular wires or as templates for circuits made with conventional lithographic processes.

To set up the reaction, the researchers coat a silicon surface with a layer of hydrogen atoms, then remove a single hydrogen atom using a scanning tunneling microscope. This makes an atom-sized reactive spot. They then expose the surface to styrene molecules. The reactive silicon spot attracts a styrene molecule, which leaves the molecule unstable. To become stable the styrene molecule plucks an adjacent hydrogen atom, creating another reactive spot. Another styrene molecule attaches to that spot, continuing the reaction. The reaction continues to the edge of the silicon surface

So far the researchers have only been able to make straight lines. But they expect to eventually be able to make the lines step sideways, said Robert A. Wolkow, a senior research officer and co-author of a paper on the process published in the July 6 issue of the journal Nature.

"It'll be like clicking your toy train set tracks together: you'll put down a few straight tracks and then you'll turn off the valve and then you'll turn on another valve with different molecules that will turn corners," he said.

It will likely be 10 to 15 years before the process is commercially viable, Wolkow said. The research was funded by the National Research Council of Canada.

Timeline:  >10 years
Funding:   Government
TRN Categories:   Semiconductors and Materials; Nanotechnology
Story Type:   News
Related Elements:  Technical paper "Self-Directed Growth of Molecular Nano-Structures on Silicon" in July 6 Nature; Animation


July 12, 2000

Page One

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Chemical reaction zips nanowires onto silicon


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