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Posted: March 2, 2009
Georgia Tech will push boundaries of nanotechnology research with innovative low-temperature carbon nanotube fabrication tool
(Nanowerk News) A leading research university, Georgia Institute of Technology, has ordered a nanomaterial growth tool from Surrey NanoSystems.
The NanoGrowth 1000n equipment chosen incorporates an innovative low-temperature growth module that will allow precision carbon nanotubes and related nanomaterials to be grown repeatably at much lower temperatures than normal - down to 350 degrees C initially and potentially even lower. The capability will help researchers to explore growth on a very wide range of target substrates from active silicon devices to flexible polymer substrates.
One of Georgia Tech 's major research aims is to investigate the development of carbon nanotube (CNT) heatsink structures to dramatically increase heat conduction and dissipation capability - combating a prime cause of silicon chip failure and supporting further advances in integration density and performance.
Georgia Tech chose Surrey NanoSystems' NanoGrowth tool primarily for the flexibility of research opened up by its low-temperature capability, and its ability to grow material across large substrate areas of up to 4 inches (100 mm).
Dr Baratunde Cola, Assistant Professor at the George W Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, specified the equipment. During the selection process, against strong competition from a number of other tool vendors, Surrey NanoSystems demonstrated the NanoGrowth's ability to grow ordered nanostructures on flexible polymer materials of the general type used for flexible printed circuits. The team also grew sample structures using special catalyst materials created by Georgia Tech to foster particular nanomaterial structures of interest. The processing temperature used in the trials was around 350 degrees C. However, trials at even lower processing temperatures of around 300 degrees C are planned.
Dr Cola has just established a new research group called NEST - NanoEngineered Systems and Transport Research Group - that further extends the University's large footprint in nanotechnology research. NEST is a part of Georgia Tech's renowned Microelectronics Research Center and its research aims include developing technology for cleaner energy solutions, smaller and more affordable electronics, and general improvements to global living standards.
The NanoGrowth tool is one of the first and most important pieces of capital equipment that will be available to the NEST team. The tool includes both CVD (chemical vapor deposition) and PECVD (plasma-enhanced CVD) processing capability, allowing CNT growth at 'standard' temperatures in and around the 500-1000 degrees C range, as well as at much lower temperatures of 350-400 degrees C and below. Low temperature growth is particularly interesting, as it opens up many new application areas for CNTs. However, the team is equally interested in NanoGrowth's conventional high temperature growth capability, as the tool will be available to a wide spectrum of nanotechnology researchers and students.
Developed with the help of groundbreaking research into CNT fabrication undertaken at the UK University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute, NanoGrowth comes with proven recipes for the precise and repeatable growth of CNTs and other nanomaterials. When fitted with the company's unique patented low-temperature fabrication system, a combination of heat removal hardware and processing steps allow precise carbon nanotube growth at temperatures below 400 degrees C, making the system suitable for growing nanomaterials on fabricated silicon structures for advanced insulation or conduction purposes.
Another novel feature of the NanoGrowth tool that supports this application area is its innovative heat transfer system. This allows processing temperatures to ramp at up to 300 degrees C per second. This highly dynamic performance - which is an order of magnitude or more faster than many other tools - provides a platform for complex CNT research as it can allows can prevent ultra-finely-spaced catalyst material deposits from agglomerating during heating, supporting the growth of highly integrated arrays and shapes.
"Engineered nanostructures can be exploited to enhance energy transport and conversion processes and catalyze progress in a very large number of applications," says Assistant Professor Baratunde Cola of Georgia Institute of Technology. "The versatility of the NanoGrowth system will be a critical resource in this work, giving us the means to explore the growth of nanostructures on a very broad range of surfaces."
The NanoGrowth system will be delivered in Q2 2009. During the system building period, Surrey NanoSystems' scientific staff will be assisting Dr Cola by performing a number of trial nanomaterial growth processes to his specifications using NanoGrowth tools installed at the company and at the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute. The target substrates include the high performance polyimide film Kapton, and Surrey NanoSystems expects to provide Dr Cola with a proven processing 'recipe' to allow his detailed research work to begin very quickly once the system is installed.
"NanoGrowth addresses the commercial process developer's need for stable and repeatable results, providing automated control over all aspects of CNT synthesis from catalyst generation to final material processing", says Duncan Cooper. "The tool's low temperature capability has allowed us to create processing recipes that can be applied to mainstream CMOS semiconductor processes, and we are now delighted to be working with such a prominent research university as Georgia Tech to grow engineered nanostructures at even lower temperatures."