The World’s Smallest Fountain Pen?

Oct 05, 2005
The World’s Smallest Fountain Pen? 1

The miniscule tip on an atomic-force microscope (AFM) helps researchers both "see" and manipulate the nanoscale environment. Now, engineers have created two novel technologies that enable such tips to write features as small as viruses and to withstand abuse with the resilience of diamond. Eventually, they believe, vast arrays of such nanofountain probes could prove useful for crafting such intricate systems as protein arrays or complex semiconductors.

Image: Horacio Espinosa and colleagues at the NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center for Integrated Nanopatterning and Detection Technologies created these two frictional atomic force microscopy images using the new nanofountain probe. The line widths on the letter "N" are as thin as 40 nanometers, and the swatches in the right-side image are less than 10 microns long. The inset on the right-side image shows pattern detail. Credit: © 2005 Horacio D. Espinosa

By taking advantage of the same capillary forces that keep fountain pens flowing, researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., created a specialized structure that channels inks from a tiny reservoir down to a miniscule AFM tip.

Existing "dip-pen" techniques utilize the same inks, which range from pigments for creating patterns to organic materials for creating sensors, but they suffer from difficulties with maintaining a regular ink supply. The new "nanofountain probe" can paint features as small as 40 nanometers and carries its own ink reservoir.

The World’s Smallest Fountain Pen? 2


Image: This scanning electron micrograph shows the new nanofountain-probe dispensing tip. Credit: © 2005 Horacio D. Espinosa

Horacio Espinosa and colleagues from the NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center for Integrated Nanopatterning and Detection Technologies crafted the probe using standard microfabrication techniques, so device production is scalable.

The center, a collaboration among researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Argonne National Laboratory, was also behind the development of another AFM breakthrough, single-piece, ultra-nano-crystalline diamond cantilevers and tips.

The World’s Smallest Fountain Pen? 3


Image: This slide highlights the ultra-nano-crystalline diamond (UNCD) atomic force microscope (AFM)cantilever. (a) This is a scanning-electron micrograph of a UNCD cantilever with a tip. (b) This is a scanning electron micrograph of a UNCD tip after one hour of scanning on a diamond substrate. Inset shows the tip before the scanning. (c) This is a frictional AFM image of an alkanethiol monolayer patterned onto a gold substrate with a UNCD tip. Researchers used the same tip for patterning and imaging. (d) This scanning electron micrograph shows a commercially available silicon nitride tip after one hour of scanning with the same parameters used for the UNCD tip in (b). The image shows damage at the tip apex while the inset shows the tip prior to the test. Credit: © 2005 Horacio D. Espinosa

Existing commercially available tips incorporate a diamond tip glued to a cantilever, a difficult component to craft, or less durable silicon tips coated with layers of diamond.

In addition to being extremely durable, the new tips are also crafted using standard microfabrication techniques and offer the same manufacturing advantages as the nanofountain probes.

Both developments appeared in the journal Small. A report on the nanofountain probe appeared in the April 2005 issue, and one on the ultra-nano-crystalline diamond tip appeared in the August 2005 issue.

The research was supported by NSF.

Source: NSF (by Josh Chamot)

Explore further: Wiring up carbon-based electronics

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Two become one with the 3-D NanoChemiscope

Aug 22, 2013

The 3D NanoChemiscope is a miracle of state-of-the-art analysis technology. As a further development of well-known microscopic and mass spectroscopic methods, it maps the physical and chemical surfaces of ...

Team creates MRI for the nanoscale

Feb 13, 2013

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reveals details of living tissues, diseased organs and tumors inside the body without x-rays or surgery. What if the same technology could peer down to the level of atoms? ...

Dinosaur science goes high-tech

Nov 19, 2012

They aren't your grandpa's dinosaurs. Feathered, far-flung and far more complicated, dinosaurs as revealed by today's technology look quite unlike the dumpy denizens of old-time dioramas.

Nanometer-scale diamond tips improve nano-manufacturing

Nov 14, 2012

(Phys.org)—One of the most promising innovations of nanotechnology has been the ability to perform rapid nanofabrication using nanometer-scale tips. The fabrication speed can be dramatically increased by ...

Recommended for you

Innovative strategy to facilitate organ repair

1 hour ago

A significant breakthrough could revolutionize surgical practice and regenerative medicine. A team led by Ludwik Leibler from the Laboratoire Matière Molle et Chimie (CNRS/ESPCI Paris Tech) and Didier Letourneur ...

'Exotic' material is like a switch when super thin

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Ever-shrinking electronic devices could get down to atomic dimensions with the help of transition metal oxides, a class of materials that seems to have it all: superconductivity, magnetoresistance ...

Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

20 hours ago

A new nano-membrane made out of the 'super material' graphene is extremely light and breathable. Not only can this open the door to a new generation of functional waterproof clothing, but also to ultra-rapid filtration. The ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Innovative strategy to facilitate organ repair

A significant breakthrough could revolutionize surgical practice and regenerative medicine. A team led by Ludwik Leibler from the Laboratoire Matière Molle et Chimie (CNRS/ESPCI Paris Tech) and Didier Letourneur ...

'Exotic' material is like a switch when super thin

(Phys.org) —Ever-shrinking electronic devices could get down to atomic dimensions with the help of transition metal oxides, a class of materials that seems to have it all: superconductivity, magnetoresistance ...

LADEE mission ends with planned lunar impact

(Phys.org) —Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface ...