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Thinking Small (video)
May 10, 2001

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Overview of Nanotechnology - from Rutgers University

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With constantly shrinking computer chips powering constantly shrinking electronics, some experts say that we will reach the limits of the microelectronic revolution within ten years. What’s after that?

As this ScienCentral News video report shows, nanotechnology—with its ability to write pages of information on the point of a pin—has NASA scientists thinking small. Really small.

Tiny instruments

It’s an old joke—you gripe about something minor, and a friend rubs his thumb and finger together and says, "You know what this is? This is me playing the world’s smallest violin for poor little you."

Well researchers at Cornell University’s Nanofabrication Facility made that quip less of a joke when they created the world’s smallest musical instruments—a guitar and a harp, each the size of a bacteria.

The guitar has six strings, each string about 50 nanometers wide, the width of about 100 atoms. The guitar was not meant to be played; it was created simply to prove that it is possible to make three-dimensional objects so small. The entire structure is about 10 micrometers long, about the size of a single cell.

The harp, however, can be played. If plucked—by an atomic force microscope, for example—the strings would resonate, but obviously at inaudible frequencies.

These tiny instruments are created using a technique called electron beam lithography. "It’s accomplished by scanning a very, very finely-focused electron beam across a sensitive film that’s subsequently developed," says Paul Maker, manager of the electron beam lithography lab at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The electron beam is very similar in fact and function to the beam that scans your TV set and produces TV images, except that our beam is far more energetic and much much much smaller. In fact, our beam can be focused to a spot that is 100,000 times sharper than the point of a draftsman’s pencil. With it we can draw incredibly small features, sharp features, that translate into the next generation of computer memory chips and computers."

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