This is a significant achievement that will make nanomanufacturing both practical and affordable
Researchers claim to have fabricated an ultrasharp silicon carbide tip possessing such high strength that it is thousands of times more wear resistant at the nanoscale than previous designs.
The new tip is said to be 100,000 times smaller than the tip of a pencil, and paves the way for nanomanufacturing for applications, including bio sensors for healthcare and the environment.
Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin, Madison and IBM Research Zurich sought to develop a nano sized tip that is both ultrasharp and physically robust, particularly under extreme temperatures and harsh chemical environments.
“The dream tip material for thermomechanical nanofabrication should have a high hardness, temperature stability, chemical inertness, and high thermal conductivity,” said Dr Mark Lantz, manager in storage research at IBM Research – Zurich. “With this novel tip we continue to deliver on IBM’s vision of a smarter, instrumented world with microscopic sensors monitoring everything from water pollution to patient care.”
According to the researchers, they have developed a new, resistant nano sized tip that wears away at the rate of less than one atom per millimetre of sliding on a substrate of silicon dioxide. This, they claim, is much lower than the wear rate of conventional silicon tips and its hardness is 100 times greater than that of the previously state of the art silicon oxide doped diamond like carbon tips they developed last year.
“Compared to our previous work in silicon, the new carbide tip can slide on a silicon dioxide surface about 10,000 times farther before the same wear volume is reached and 300 times farther than our previous diamond like carbon tip,” said Prof Robert Carpick, University of Pennsylvania. “This is a significant achievement that will make nanomanufacturing both practical and affordable.”
To create the new tip, the researchers developed a process whereby the surfaces of nanoscale silicon tips are exposed to carbon ions and then subjected to annealing – a process of heating and slow cooling in order to toughen and reduce brittleness. A strong silicon carbide layer is formed, but the nanoscale sharpness of the original silicon tip is maintained. Although silicon carbide has long been known as an ideal candidate material for such tips, the unique carbon implantation and annealing process made it possible to harden the surface while maintaining the original shape and ensuring strong adhesion between the hardened surface of the tip and the underlying material – similar to how steel is tempered to make it harder.
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