Wanted: Assembly Worker, Robotics Industry
Requirements: Must be less than one inch tall and willing to work inside the vacuum chamber of a scanning electron microscope; Experience handling and assembling single carbon nanotubes a big plus; 24×7 availability.
This is non-’Microbot Construction Workers Union of North America’ shop.
Apply today and play a big part in our nanofuture!!
The components required for nanoscale devices are so small and difficult to handle that a team of European scientists has created special microbot construction teams to put them together.
The mobile microbots developed by the EU-funded NanoHand project can automatically pick up and install carbon nanotubes thousands of times thinner than a human hair and assemble them inside the vacuum chamber of a scanning electron microscope –a world first for automated microgripper-based nanoconstruction.
The .8 inch long microbots are equipped with delicate handling tools, including a ‘microgripper’ that can make precise movements. Working on electrothermal principles, the microbot can open and close its jaws, like a pair of tweezers. The jaws open to about 2 micrometres and can pick up objects less than 100 nanometres in size.
At that scale, the intermolecular forces between objects are stronger than gravity. Once a nanotube has been picked up it will stick to the jaws of the gripper and cannot easily be dropped into position. The team have had to develop novel ‘pick-and-place’ techniques to get around this problem.
One approach is to glue the tube in its final position using electron beam-induced positioning. Another is to use geometrical principles to ensure that the intermolecular forces pulling the tube towards its intended location are greater than those holding it in the jaws of the gripper.
Project partners –including microchip manufacturers STMicroelectronics– are exploring how the technology could be used for rapid prototyping of new designs for microchips. One idea is to use carbon nanotubes as ‘interconnects’, the fine wires that make the electrical connections to a chip. Because of their high electrical conductivity, carbon nanotubes dissipate less heat than copper and allow circuits to be packed more densely.
Two of the project’s partners, Tescan and Klocke Nanotechnik, are collaborating to sell a scanning electron microscope equipped with a nanopositioning system based on NanoHand technology.