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Nanolithography refers to a number of techniques used to create or fabricate nanoscale structures (generally with at least one lateral dimension between the size of an atom and 100 nm). It is called nanolithography because the method is similar to writing at the nanoscale.

In most cases, nanolithography results in the selective removal or deposition of material onto a substrate in a predetermined pattern. The typical figures of merit in a nanolithography process include high lateral spatial resolution, broad materials compatibility, high throughput, high yield, and low cost.

Institute researchers have made several notable contributions to this field. They developed the innovative dip-pen nanolithography technique which uses an atomic force microscope tip to deliver collections of molecules to a substrate. Molecules are deposited via ink chemisorption with a resolution of tens of nanometers. Nanosphere lithography was developed by Institute researchers to allow for inexpensive, massively parallel nanostructure fabrication that is flexible in nanoparticle size, shape, and spacing. Another lithography technique developed by Institute researchers is feedback controlled lithography, which uses a scanning tunnelling microscope to create nanostructures

To overcome the deterioration of microscopy tips during fabrication of structures, Institute researchers recently developed monolithic ultra-nano-crystalline diamond (UNCD) cantilevers with tips exhibiting properties similar to single-crystal diamond.

Although probe-base nanolithography provides the highest lateral spatial resolution, it has historically suffered from low throughput due to its inherently serial nature. Recent developments at the Institute in massively parallel probe arrays with 55,000 pen tips enabled by microelectromechanical systems technology are helping to overcome this limitation. This technology will allow the same build-up of three-dimensional nanoscale structures of varying composition, but from a bottom-up approach of constructing from individual atoms or molecules.