Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences

A technological revolution at atomic size 

More effective as well as cheaper technology will be the outcome of a new innovation project, led by the University of Bergen.

Nanotechnology, illustration
MORE EFFECTIVE TECH: A new UiB-ledproject will give the world cheaper and more effective technology, using nanotechnology. (Illustration)

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In the world of technology, size matters. An entire industry craves increasingly smaller and smaller components. 

"This makes our computers, medical instruments, circuit boards, microchips and sensors of all kinds more effective," says Professor Bodil Holst. She is a researcher at the Department of Physics and Technology at the University of Bergen (UiB).

Bodil Holst

Professor Bodil Holst.

Ingvild Festervoll Melien

Nanolitigraphy is one of the biggest, or smallest, players in this field. The process entails creating patterns at nano scale on a surface, thus making it possible to create smaller electronic components such as microchips and circuit boards by fitting more elements in a very confined space. IN addition, the components are made more effective, since electrons use less time traveling between different components .

This technique of litography has steadily become more effective, creating smaller and smaller patterns. The limit, however, is at 6 to 8 nanometres. At this small size the pattern one «shoots» on the surface becomes blurred.

Breaking the barrier

Professor Holst is certain that she and her team will be able to change and improve nanolitography. 

This autumn (2019) she and an international team of researchers receive Horizon 2020 funds for the project Nanolace - Mask Based Lithography Nanolace - Mask Based Lithography .

"Our project will make us able to create patterns as small as 1 nanometre," she says. 

1 nanometre is one billionth of 1 metre. 

The researchers plan to achieve this through two methods: shooting atoms through a mask with a thin membrane, as well as a method using a Bose–Einstein condensate In the litography process. Here, the team will use an optical mask, combined with a magnetic lense. 

Promising great impact

The project is financed through the EU programme FET Open. The programme supports innovation; new ideas that can create radical new technologies for the future. To suceed, the applicants have to clearly state how the results will impact society. 

"Why is it so important to reduce size from 6 t 8 nanometres? This project proves important because it will make mass production of certain types of Quantum Devices possible, amongst other things. One possible example is Quantum Dots. Today, they are at ca 10 nanometres sizes. At this size, many if them require temperatures of minus 300 degrees Celsius to function. Halving the size makes them able to function at room temperature. Using our technology, we will be able to mass produce these types of Quantum Dots,» the researcher says. 

Quantum Dots have a great potential. Some types are already in use in a variety of fields, from biology to TV-screens.

Cheaper, faster tech for everyone

Holst believes the new technology will have great impact for both the tech industry, researchers and the world. 

«We will be able to create brand new electronical components. We will also be able to create nano filters, making the process of turning seawater into fresh water more energy efficient than today. The project will result inan enabling technology, giving technologists and scientists new tools to solve problems with," explains Holst. 

The Internet of Things, smart watches, health trackers and other wearable tech all have one big problem: short battery lifes. The Nanolace project will solve this problem, as minitaturising technology will provide consumers with new and smaller alternatives.

Testing starts in 2020, and the project will last four years. Partners from several fields of expertise are involved (see fact box), and this broad competence makes the team able to work quickly. Holst is certain that the porject will yield results. 

"The biggest challenge facing us now is whether the chemists involved will be able to produce a surface that changes how we want it to as we shoot our atoms at it. It will be difficult, but not impossible. The rest of the project will run without major problems, I think. I am known to be an optimist. In any case, we will need some time before production of a commercial instrument is possible."