Using current to grow tiny tech

29th June 2015
Barney Scott

Pioneering research from the University of Southampton using electrical currents to grow materials that could create tiny tech the size of atoms will be on show at the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition, which opens to the public this week (Tuesday 30th June 2015).

Our lives have been transformed by the ability to build ever smaller and more powerful computing devices withreduced energy usage. However, this continued shrinkage is now limited by conventional methods using lasers to manufacture computer chips and innovative new methods must be found if we are to continue this technology revolution.

At the event, Southampton researchers will exhibit a revolutionary technique using SuperCritical Fluid ElectroDeposition (SCFED) to build ultra-small circuitry, which offers the exciting prospect of 'growing' advanced materials and devices atom-by-atom.

Supercritical fluids are highly compressed gases, in which compounds containing elements like tin or germanium can be dissolved. Unlike liquids, supercritical fluids have no surface tension, so researchers can use them to deposit metal atoms deep into holes that are just a few nanometres across. In this way, atom-by-atom, they can build the nanowires needed for tiny computers, enabling technology to evolve beyond the limits of current manufacturing processes.

To see this revolutionary technique, watch the video below.

The SCFED Project is led by the University of Southampton and supported by teams at the Universities of Nottingham and Warwick, through a multidisciplinary £5.7m EPSRC Programme Grant bringing together chemists and physicists.

Dr Kristian Thaller, from the Nanomaterials group at the University of Southampton and Programme Manager for the SCFED Project, says: “The rapid advances in our society have been driven by the ability to continually take technology smaller, but the current manufacturing methods that have allowed mankind to achieve this are now reaching their limits. If computers are to keep getting faster, a new way of making devices is needed and our science can lead that process.”

Visitors to the exhibition, which runs from 30th June to 5th July, will be able to electroplate and keep their fingerprints in gold, operate an experiment demonstrating how supercritical fluids work and speak to scientists from the SCFED Project about their research.

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