Sound waves precisely position nanowires

June 19, 2013
Simulation of the electric field distribution in a two-dimensional standing surface wave field. Credit: Penn State

( —The smaller components become, the more difficult it is to create patterns in an economical and reproducible way, according to an interdisciplinary team of Penn State researchers who, using sound waves, can place nanowires in repeatable patterns for potential use in a variety of sensors, optoelectronics and nanoscale circuits.

"There are ways to create these devices with lithography, but it is very hard to create patterns below 50 using lithography," said Tony Jun Huang, associate professor of and mechanics, Penn State. "It is rather simple now to make metal nanomaterials using . Our process allows pattern transfer of arrays of these nanomaterials onto substrates that might not be compatible with conventional lithography. For example, we could make networks of wires and then pattern them to arrays of living cells."

The researchers looked at the placement of metallic nanowires in solution on a piezoelectric substrate. move when an electric voltage is applied to them and create an when compressed.

In this case, the researchers applied an alternating current to the substrate so that the material's movement creates a standing surface acoustic wave in the solution. A standing wave has node locations that do not move, so the nanowires arrive at these nodes and remain there.

If the researchers apply only one current, then the nanowires form a one-dimensional array with the nanowires lined up head to tail in parallel rows. If perpendicular currents are used, a two-dimensional grid of forms and the nanowires move to those grid-point nodes and form a three-dimensional spark-like pattern.

"Because the pitch of both the one-dimensional and two-dimensional structures is sensitive to the frequency of the standing surface acoustic wave field, this technique allows for the patterning of nanowires with tunable spacing and density," the researchers report in a recent issue of ACS Nano.

Simulation of the electric field distribution in a two-dimensional standing surface wave field. Credit: Penn State

The nanowires in solution will settle in place onto the substrate when the solution evaporates, preserving the pattern. The researchers note that the patterned nanowires could then be transferred to organic polymer substrates with good accuracy by placing the polymer onto the top of the nanowires and with slight pressure, transferring the nanowires. They suggest that the nanowires could then be transferred to rigid or flexible substrates from the organic polymer using microcontact-printing techniques that are well developed.

"We really think our technique can be extremely powerful," said Huang. "We can tune the pattern to the configuration we want and then transfer the nanowires using a polymer stamp."

The spacing of the nodes where nanowires deposit can be adjusted on the fly by changing the frequency and the interaction between the two electric fields.

"This would save a lot of time compared to or other static fabrication methods," said Huang.

The researchers are currently investigating more complex designs.

Explore further: Researchers create highly conductive and elastic conductors using silver nanowires

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Mathematicians identify limits to heat flow at the nanoscale

November 24, 2015

How much heat can two bodies exchange without touching? For over a century, scientists have been able to answer this question for virtually any pair of objects in the macroscopic world, from the rate at which a campfire can ...

New sensor sends electronic signal when estrogen is detected

November 24, 2015

Estrogen is a tiny molecule, but it can have big effects on humans and other animals. Estrogen is one of the main hormones that regulates the female reproductive system - it can be monitored to track human fertility and is ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 19, 2013
Great news. Continue to use nature's techniques to get things done, far more effectively and efficiently. Why use intense heat and pressure to do things, when nature has done it using ambient pressure and room temp (more or less) for eons. Biomimicry to the rescue.
Re sound patterning: see youtube videos of "Cymatics" for plenty of inspiration.
not rated yet Jun 19, 2013
Quite right! Years ago on English tv a prof from London Univ was interviewed about his work (I think it was prof John Taylor, but am not sure) and was asked what he did to relax. He said that when ever he had a difficult problem he would walk through a park, gardens or woods. Apparently several times he found that Nature would present either a solution or at least a direction.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.