While avoiding terrorists attacks from Italian eco-terrorists, IBM researchers in Zurich have developed a patterning technique that is able to produce structures 80% to 90% more cheaply than electron beam lithography.
The technique, which uses a heated silicon tip attached to a flexible cantilever, can make structures with features as small as 15 nanometers. To demonstrate this capability the researchers created 3D maps of the world that are so small that 1000 of these maps could fit onto a grain of salt.
Of course, in order to have the technique work the researchers needed to develop special materials and in these demonstrations the materials are a phthalaldehyde polymer film and molecular glass.
The “a-ha” moment occurred to IBM Urs Duerig when he realized that they were removing material rather than displacing it after he looked at some indent patterns that were much different than from what he was expecting. According to Duerig, it was like fulfilling a dream of his of engraving information like the Egyptians chiseled characters into stone but doing it on the nanoscale.