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January 24, 2018

Postdoctoral researcher Yuanyuan Wang holds a 'mask'

Postdoctoral researcher Yuanyuan Wang holds a "mask" used in a new process that makes it easier to build nanomaterials into transistors, solar cells and other devices.

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Scientists at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a new way to precisely pattern nanomaterials that could open a new path to the next generation of everyday electronic devices. The new technique is expected to make such materials easily available for eventual use in everything from LED displays to cellular phones to photodetectors and solar cells.

While nanomaterials are promising for future devices, ways to build them into complex structures have been limited and small scale.

The foundation of modern computing are tiny switches called transistors, created by a technique called photolithography. Photolithography carves a stencil out of a layer of organic polymer by laying down a patterned "mask" and illuminating it with ultraviolet light. After the new material is deposited on top, the polymer stencil is lifted off to reveal the pattern. Several rounds of such patterning build a miniature transistor onto the material. The new technique, called DOLFIN, makes different nanomaterials directly into "ink" in a process that bypasses the need to lay down a polymer stencil.

"This is a step needed to move quantum dots and many other nanomaterials from proof-of-concept experiments to real technology we can use," said Dmitri Talapin, professor of chemistry at UChicago and a scientist with the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne. "It really expands our horizons."

The work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (grants CHE 1611331 and the NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Program under award DMR 1420709).

To learn more about this research, see the NSF News From the Field story New method promises easier nanoscale manufacturing. (Date image taken: July 2017; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Jan. 25, 2018)

Credit: Photo courtesy of The University of Chicago/Jean Lachat

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