NSF Grant to Help Engineers Devise Bottom-Up Manufacturing Method

Two researchers in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering hope to create a new bottom-up manufacturing method that might ultimately result in a transistor built out of a single molecule.

Peter J. Burke, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and James Brody, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, intend to devise a system-on-a-chip that would act as a minute manufacturing platform for creating devices out of molecules. The three-year project will take place in the school's Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility and is supported by a $211,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The first step, according to Burke, is to do the basic science necessary to electronically control and move molecules.

"We need to determine how best to harness the electric fields generated by microfabricated electrodes and carbon nanotubes in order to manipulate and build matter one molecule at a time," he explains. They'll use a form of electric tweezers that work in a similar fashion as optical tweezers to move the molecules.

If the two scientists are successful, the result could be a transistor as small as one nanometer—a significant improvement over the current size of 100 nanometers. A nano-transistor like this would be a boon to industry, improving the memory and processing power of modern computers by at least a factor of 10,000.

Burke says that more researchers are experimenting with bottom-up methods in an attempt to overcome the limitations of top-down techniques like lithography.

"By building from the bottom up, scientists will ultimately repudiate Moore's law by more than doubling the processing power of computers in a span of time of less than 18 months," notes Burke.

To learn more about this project, contact pjburke@uci.edu or jbrody@uci.edu. To learn about other nanotechnology projects underway at the Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility, contact info@inrf.uci.edu.