NORTHWESTERN (US)—Researchers are using sheets of Shrinky Dinks—an arts and crafts material used by children since the 1970s—as the backbone of a new inexpensive way to create, test, and mass-produce large-area patterns on the nanoscale.

“It is a simple, low-cost, and high-throughput nanopatterning method that can be done in any laboratory,” says Teri Odom, associate professor of chemistry at Northwestern University.

Details of the solvent-assisted nanoscale embossing (SANE) method are published by the journal Nano Letters.

The method offers unprecedented opportunities to manipulate the electronic, photonic, and magnetic properties of nanomaterials. It also easily controls a pattern’s size and symmetry and can be used to produce millions of copies of the pattern over a large area.

Potential applications include devices that take advantage of nanoscale patterns, such as solar cells, high-density displays, computers, and chemical and biological sensors.

“No other existing nanopatterning method can both prototype arbitrary patterns with small separations and reproduce them over six-inch wafers for less than $100,” Odom says.

Starting with a single master pattern, the method can be used to create new nanoscale masters with variable spacings and feature sizes. SANE can increase the spacing of patterns up to 100 percent as well as decrease them down to 50 percent in a single step, merely by stretching or heating (shrinking) the polymer substrate (the Shrinky Dinks material).

Also, SANE can reduce critical feature sizes as small as 45 percent compared to the master by controlled swelling of patterned polymer molds with different solvents. The technique works from the nanoscale to the macroscale.

Biologists, chemists, and physicists who are not familiar with nanopatterning now can use the method for research at the nanoscale. Those working on solar energy, data storage and plasmonics will find the method particularly useful, Odom says.

For example, in a plasmonics application, Odom and her research team used the patterning capabilities to generate metal nanoparticle arrays with continuously variable separations on the same substrate.

The National Science Foundation supported the research.

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