Manufacturing at the Nanoscale
Manufacturing at the nanoscale is known as nanomanufacturing. Nanomanufacturing involves scaled-up, reliable, and cost-effective manufacturing of nanoscale materials, structures, devices, and systems. It also includes research, development, and integration of top-down processes and increasingly complex bottom-up or self-assembly processes.
In more simple terms, nanomanufacturing leads to the production of improved materials and new products. As mentioned above, there are two basic approaches to nanomanufacturing, either top-down or bottom-up. Top-down fabrication reduces large pieces of materials all the way down to the nanoscale, like someone carving a model airplane out of a block of wood. This approach requires larger amounts of materials and can lead to waste if excess material is discarded. The bottom-up approach to nanomanufacturing creates products by building them up from atomic- and molecular-scale components, which can be time-consuming. Scientists are exploring the concept of placing certain molecular-scale components together that will spontaneously “self-assemble,” from the bottom up into ordered structures.
Within the top-down and bottom-up categories of nanomanufacturing, there are a growing number of new processes that enable nanomanufacturing. Among these are:
- Chemical vapor deposition is a process in which chemicals react to produce very pure, high-performance films
- Molecular beam epitaxy is one method for depositing highly controlled thin films
- Atomic layer epitaxy is a process for depositing one-atom-thick layers on a surface
- Dip pen lithography is a process in which the tip of an atomic force microscope is "dipped" into a chemical fluid and then used to "write" on a surface, like an old fashioned ink pen onto paper
- Nanoimprint lithography is a process for creating nanoscale features by "stamping" or "printing" them onto a surface
- Roll-to-roll processing is a high-volume process to produce nanoscale devices on a roll of ultrathin plastic or metal
- Self-assembly describes the process in which a group of components come together to form an ordered structure without outside direction
Structures and properties of materials can be improved through these nanomanufacturing processes. Such nanomaterials can be stronger, lighter, more durable, water-repellent, anti-reflective, self-cleaning, ultraviolet- or infrared-resistant, antifog, antimicrobial, scratch-resistant, or electrically conductive, among other traits. Taking advantage of these properties, today's nanotechnology-enabled products range from baseball bats and tennis rackets to catalysts for refining crude oil and ultrasensitive detection and identification of biological and chemical toxins.
Nanoscale transistors may someday lead to computers that are faster, more powerful, and more energy efficient than those used today. Nanotechnology also holds the potential to exponentially increase information storage capacity; soon your computer’s entire memory will be able to be stored on a single tiny chip. In the energy arena, nanotechnology will enable high-efficiency, low-cost batteries and solar cells.