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Nanoparticles Used to Etch Straight Paths in Semiconductors

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 08:22AM

If there is one thing scientists have to bear in mind at all times, it is to always take a second look at bad results. Researchers at NIST and IBM were disappointed when their attempts to create nanowires failed due to a contaminant, but then they put the results under the scanning electron microscope. To their surprise, there were long straight channels etched into the semiconductor they were working with, which could have some interesting applications.

The researchers were working with gold nanoparticles on indium phosphide and were expecting nanowires to be created, but the presence of water completely changed that. Initially a gold layer was deposited on the semiconductor, and when heated this film broke apart to form droplets, and some of the indium phosphide was absorbed by the droplets to form a gold alloy. With water vapor present, these nanoparticles are surrounded by water molecules that will etch into the semiconductor by oxidizing it. This results in indium oxide and phosphorus, which evaporate away. At temperatures below 300 ºC, pits are formed, but at 440 ºC and above, long V-shaped channels are created. These channels are the size of the nanoparticle, which can be controlled.

While this is not the nanowires the researchers were aiming for, this ability to create precise and straight nanochannels could be used to bring lasers, sensors, wave guides and more to lab-on-a-chip devices. So far the researchers have found this works with indium phosphide, gallium phosphide, and indium arsenide, which are used to create LEDs and high-speed electronics, but we could see it adapted for patterning channels into silicon and other materials in the future.

Source: NIST

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