Atomic-level manufacturing

October 19, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C., (Oct. 19, 2010) -- The long-held dream of creating atomically precise three-dimensional structures in a manufacturing environment is approaching reality, according to the top scientist at a company making tools aimed at that ambitious goal.

John Randall, Vice President of Zyvex Labs in Richardson, Tex., says his researchers have demonstrated a process that uses a scanning tunneling microscope tip to remove protective surface hydrogen atoms from silicon one at a time and then adds single atomic layers of silicon only to those meticulously cleared areas. Randall describes the achievement today at the AVS 57th International Symposium & Exhibition, which takes place this week in the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico.

To date, Zyvex Labs researchers have demonstrated removal of 50 hydrogen atoms per second. But with experience and innovation, Randall predicts large improvements in the speed of this limiting factor.

"There are many paths to scale-up, including parallelism," he says. "A thousand-fold increase in speed will be fairly easy to achieve."

Within seven years, Randall expects that Zyvex Labs will be selling initial production tools that can remove more than a million hydrogen atoms a second using 10 parallel tips at a cost of about $2,000 per cubic micrometer of added silicon (48 billion atoms).

Applications that would benefit most from having tiny atomically precise structures include nanopore membranes, qubit structures for quantum computers and nanometrology standards. Larger-scale applications, such as nanoimprint templates, would need still further cost-performance improvements to become economically viable.

The Zyvex process is currently used only on silicon surfaces, which are typically coated with hydrogen atoms bound to any exposed silicon atoms. The process has two steps: first, in an ultra high vacuum, a scanning tunneling microscope is directed to remove individual hydrogen atoms from only those locations where additional silicon will later be added. Second, a silicon hydride gas is introduced. A single layer of these molecules adheres to any exposed hydrogen-free silicon atoms. After deposition, the gas is removed and the process is repeated to build up as many three-dimensional layers of atomically pure silicon as is needed.
This effort is funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Emerging Technology Fund of the State of Texas.

NOTE: An image is available for journalists. Please contact

TITLE: Building Atomically Precise Silicon Structures
CAPTION: Zyvex Labs' Atomic Layer Epitaxy technique for making atomically precise three-dimensional objects is a two-step process that is repeated as many times as needed to make the desired structure: a) In an ultra-high vacuum system, a scanning tunneling microscope tip first removes individual hydrogen atoms from a silicon surface where additional silicon is going to be built up. b) In the deposition step, gaseous silicon hydride is introduced. A silicon atom and an attached hydrogen settle down onto the silicon surface wherever the hydrogen had earlier been removed. c) After deposition, the silicon hydride gas is evacuated, and the first hydrogen-removal patterning step is repeated.
CREDIT: Image courtesy of Zyvex Labs

The presentation, "Atomic Precision Fabrication Using Patterned Si Atomic Layer Epitaxy: Processing Capabilities, Throughput Limitations, and Applications" is at 8:40 a.m. on Tuesday, October 19, 2010.


The AVS 57th International Symposium and Exhibition is being held October 17-22, 2010, at the Albuquerque Convention Center, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The meeting includes more than 1,200 talks and posters presented in more than 130 technical sessions. All meeting information, including directions to the Convention Center, can be found at:

REGISTRATION -- Staff reporters and professional freelance journalists working on assignment are invited to attend the conference free of charge. Journalist registration instructions can be found at:


The AVS press room will be located in East Lobby of the Albuquerque Convention Center. Press room hours are Monday-Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The phone number there is 408-205-0595. Press Kits containing company product announcements and other news will be available on CD-ROM in the press room. Also access the online press room at:


Complete Program:
Searchable abstracts:
Topical Conferences:
Meeting Home Page:


The plenary talk, "Carbon Nanotubes and Single Sheet Graphene," which will be at noon on Monday, October 18, 2010 in Ballroom B of the Albuquerque Convention Center. See:


AVS promotes communication, dissemination of knowledge, recommended practices, research, and education in a broad range of technologically relevant topics. One way that it does this is by offering special tutorials in areas such as:

- Graphene Tutorial (Sunday, October 17, 2010, 1:00-5:00 p.m.)

- Tutorial on Nanoparticle Characterization and Toxicity: Significant Challenges and Critical Needs (Sunday, October 17, 2010, 1:00-5:00 p.m.)

To access the complete descriptions of these special tutorials, see:


As a professional membership organization, AVS fosters networking within the materials, processing, and interfaces community at various local, national or international meetings and exhibits throughout the year. AVS publishes four journals, honors and recognizes members through its prestigious awards program, offers training and other technical resources, as well as career services.

American Institute of Physics

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