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11 May 2011

Prof. Ivo Rangelow: “Scanning nanocomponents’ surfaces at the atomic level will enable more efficient electronic devices”

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The miniaturization of many objects is one of the great technological advances of recent decades, smaller mobile phones, thinner laptops and vehicles filled with invisible high-performance electronics. But building minute components poses extremely high challenges for quality control of the materials

Prof Ivo Rangelow from the University of Ilmenau is the Scientific Vice Coordinator of the EU research project PRONANO.

Researchers of the European project PRONANO have developed a new technology to examine surfaces at the atomic level. Can you explain how it works?
We have developed a cantilever of a new kind. The needle is the sensor used for analyzing the surface of materials and the vibrations generated by the needle movement are converted into electric signals. These are processed by computer to be viewed, giving a very detailed picture of the tested surface. The PRONANO project is developing new technologies for atomic-level microscopy, knowing that each cantilever is an autonomous system. The parallelization gives the capacity to scan large surfaces very quickly.

Which is the real innovation of the cantilever developed in PRONANO?
The great innovation is the number of needles used simultaneously. Currently a cantilever is a single needle which provides information at a very slow pace. PRONANO has developed a cantilever with 32 needles operating simultaneously. The PRONANO technology allows the simultaneous scanning of a surface with several leaf springs, several cantilevers. For example, we have integrated 32 or 128 cantilevers and that way we can analyze very large surfaces. For us, "analyze" means being able to identify defects on the chips. We're able to measure the width of line and its accuracy at the nanoscale.

Which are the possible industrial applications of the PRONANO technology?
One very important application is the inspection of microchips. This requires high performance and rapidity. A system with parallel mounting will operate as many times faster as the number of cantilevers it has. For example, if we are analyzing simultaneously with 16 or 30 leaf springs, performance will be 16 or 30 times higher. Currently, the standard is 32 (cantilevers) and that already allows us to measure very quickly. We can also measure simultaneously with 128 leaf springs, which means we can analyze 128 times quicker. New perspectives for industrial applications open up in the optical industry. Surface quality of optical products like lenses for cameras or microscopes must be controlled on the nanometre scale and require an adequate roughness measurement which is almost impossible with other methods.

Can the new cantilever be used for other applications beyond surface analysis?
The technology developed by PRONANO also allows "writing" with a nanoscale lithography system. This means that the cantilevers are used for fast-writing of nanoscale patterns much smaller than 10nm. For example, a CPU built of nanostructured components with dimensions of 2-3nm could revolutionize computer technology in terms of efficiency. This technology lets us write lines or generate structures and microchips with dimensions smaller than 5 to 10 nanometers. This opens new doors in microelectronics. Currently, no one on earth is capable of writing structures with a width of about one nanometer. One of the main goals of this project is thus to enable the rapid and highly accurate engraving of structures of this size

Which are the benefits of this new technology?
Detect faults in nanocomponents more quickly as well as improve the accuracy of their engraving are two of PRONANO's goals: we can now scan and analyze large surfaces very quickly and repair defects on the microchips and we're also able to "write" with the cantilever. This means that in the future, electronic devices like computers and cell phones can be even more efficient and less costly, despite their delicate technology. provides its content to all media free of charge. We would appreciate if you could acknowledge as the source of the content.