Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Intelligent Self-Assembly

One dream of scientists making ultrasmall devices is coaxing materials to spontaneously form structures on a scale of micrometers, even nanometers. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.) The problem is how to control the location and orientation of structures made by this “self-assembly.” Now a group of researchers at Princeton University may have stumbled across one solution: a way to form precise arrays of tiny pillars exactly where you want them. By providing a potentially cheap and easy method to make tiny structures, the technique could eventually lead to such things as even smaller integrated circuits and a simpler way to sort DNA molecules.

Researchers in the lab of Stephen Chou, professor of electrical engineering, were working on a fabrication method using a mask to imprint nanometer-scale patterns on a polymer film. In a surprising result, they found that when microscopic particles of dust prevented the mask from contacting the polymer, micrometer-sized columns spontaneously formed in neat arrays under the protruding parts of the mask. Chou says he still doesn’t know exactly why the pillars form. But he quickly realized it could be a much more controllable method to self-assemble tiny structures.

“The power of the method,” says Chou, “is that it puts intelligence in self-assembly, and it could work for almost any [liquid] materials.” Chou is working on ways to make organic light-emitting devices used in flat-panel displays in which each pixel consists of a cluster of tiny pillars-a result that would greatly improve the reliability and color reproduction of the displays. Chou also suspects that the ultrasmall pillars could be used to form interconnects in nanoscale electronic devices.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.