IBM researchers in Zurich have demonstrated a patterning technique capable of creating structures measuring just 15 nanometers.
The demonstration consisted of two 3D patterns created using the technology, a 1: five billion scale replica of Switzerland's Matterhorn mountain that is 25 nanometers high and a relief map of the world measuring 22 micrometers by 11 micrometers, done at a rough scale of 8 nanometers to 1,000 feet — small enough that 1,000 such maps could be drawn on a grain of salt, IBM says in a press release.
The map of the world was created in under 2.5 minutes, IBM says.
The patterning technique uses a silicon needle measuring 100 nanometers across at its base and tapering to a width of "a few nanometers" at its tip. There are 1 billion nanometers in a meter.
The needle is attached to a "bendable cantilever" that scans the surface of the substrate with an accuracy of 1 nanometer, IBM says. Through a combination of heat and force, the needle is used to remove substrate material based on a predefined pattern, just as a milling machine works on wood or steel.
While the technology can currently create structures measuring 15 nanometers, IBM says the technology has the potential to go even smaller. That makes the technology a potential replacement for electron-beam lithography, which uses a stream of electrons to etch patterns into a substrate.
The new patterning technology produces structures at a cost that is 80 per cent to 90 per cent lower than the cost of using electron-beam lithography, IBM says.
The company did not say when it expects the technology to be ready for commercial use. Methods used today, but it is very costly and complex.