11 Mar 2016
Manufacturers may soon have a speedy and nondestructive way to test a wide array of materials under real-world conditions, thanks to an advance that researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have made in roll-to-roll measurements. Roll-to-roll measurements are typically optical measurements for roll-to-roll manufacturing, any method that uses conveyor belts for continuous processing of items, from tires to nanotechnology components.
In order for new materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene to play an increasingly important role in electronic devices, high-tech composites and other applications, manufacturers will need quality-control tests to ensure that products have desired characteristics, and lack flaws. Current test procedures often require cutting, scratching or otherwise touching a product, which slows the manufacturing process and can damage or even destroy the sample being tested.
To add to existing testing non-contact methods, NIST physicists Nathan Orloff, Christian Long and Jan Obrzut measured properties of films by passing them through a specially designed metal box known as a microwave cavity. Electromagnetic waves build up inside the cavity at a specific “resonance” frequency determined by the box’s size and shape, similar to how a guitar string vibrates at a specific pitch depending on its length and tension. When an object is placed inside the cavity, the resonance frequency changes in a way that depends on the object’s size, electrical resistance and dielectric constant, a measure of an object’s ability to store energy in an electric field. The frequency change is reminiscent of how shortening or tightening a guitar string makes it resonate at a higher pitch, says Orloff.
The researchers also built an electrical circuit to measure these changes. They first tested their device by running a strip of plastic tape known as polyimide through the cavity, using a roll-to-roll setup resembling high-volume roll-to-roll manufacturing devices used to mass-produce nanomaterials. As the tape’s thickness increased and decreased–the researchers made the changes in tape thickness spell “NIST” in Morse code–the cavity’s resonant frequency changed in tandem. So did another parameter called the “quality factor,” which is the ratio of the energy stored in the cavity to the energy lost per frequency cycle. Because polyimide’s electrical properties are well known, a manufacturer could use the cavity measurements to monitor whether tape is coming off the production line at a consistent thickness–and even feeding back information from the measurements to control the thickness.
Alternatively, a manufacturer could use the new method to monitor the electrical properties of a less well-characterized material of known dimensions. Orloff and Long demonstrated this by passing 12- and 15-centimeter-long films of carbon nanotubes deposited on sheets of plastic through the cavity and measuring the films’ electrical resistance. The entire process took “less than a second,” says Orloff. He added that with industry-standard equipment, the measurements could be taken at speeds beyond 10 meters per second, more than enough for many present-day manufacturing operations.
The new method has several advantages for a thin-film manufacturer, says Orloff. One, “You can measure the entire thing, not just a small sample,” he said. Such real-time measurements could be used to tune the manufacturing process without shutting it down, or to discard a faulty batch of product before it gets out the factory door. “This method could significantly boost prospects of not making a faulty batch in the first place,” Long noted.
And because the method is nondestructive, Orloff added, “If a batch passes the test, manufacturers can sell it.”
Films of carbon nanotubes and graphene are just starting to be manufactured in bulk for potential applications such as composite airplane materials, smartphone screens and wearable electronic devices.
Orloff, Long and Obrzut submitted a patent application for this technique in December 2015.
A producer of such materials has already expressed interest in the new method, said Orloff. “They’re really excited about it.” He added that the method is not specific to nanomanufacturing, and with a properly designed cavity, could also help with quality control of many other kinds of products, including tires, pharmaceuticals and even beer.
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
- Nathan D. Orloff, Christian J. Long, Jan Obrzut, Laurent Maillaud, Francesca Mirri, Thomas P. Kole, Robert D. McMichael, Matteo Pasquali, Stephan J. Stranick, J. Alexander Liddle. Noncontact conductivity and dielectric measurement for high throughput roll-to-roll nanomanufacturing. Scientific Reports, 2015; 5: 17019 DOI: 10.1038/srep17019
11 Aug 2015
Life may be as unpredictable as a box of chocolates, but ideally, you always know what you’re going to get from a quantum dot. A quantum dot should produce one, and only one, photon—the smallest constituent of light—each time it is energized. This characteristic makes it attractive for use in various quantum technologies such as secure communications. Oftentimes, however, the trick is in finding the dots.
[Clockwise from top left] Circular grating for extracting single photons from a quantum dot. For optimal performance, the quantum dot must be located at the center of the grating. Image taken with the camera-based optical location technique. A single quantum dot appears as a bright spot within an area defined by four alignment marks. Electron-beam lithography is used to define a circular grating at the quantum dot’s location. Image of the emission of the quantum dot within the grating. The bright spot appears in the center of the device, as desired.
“Self-assembled, epitaxially grown” quantum dots have the highest optical quality. They randomly emerge (self-assemble) at the interface between two layers of a semiconductor crystal as it is built up layer-by-layer (epitaxially grown).
They grow randomly, but in order for the dots to be useful, they need to be located in a precise relation to some other photonic structure, be it a grating, resonator or waveguide, that can control the photons that the quantum dot generates. However, finding the dots—they’re just about 10 nanometers across—is no small feat.
Always up for a challenge, researchers working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a simple new technique for locating them, and used it to create high-performance single photon sources.
This new development, which appeared in Nature Communications,* may make the manufacture of high-performance photonic devices using quantum dots much more efficient. Such devices are usually made in regular arrays using standard nanofabrication techniques for the control structures. However because of the random distribution of the dots, only a small percentage of them will line up correctly with the control structures. This process produces very few working devices.
“This is a first step towards providing accurate location information for the manufacture of high performance quantum dot devices,” says NIST physicist Kartik Srinivasan. “So far, the general approach has been statistical—make a lot of devices and end up with a small fraction that work. Our camera-based imaging technique maps the location of the quantum dots first, and then uses that knowledge to build optimized light-control devices in the right place.”
According to co-lead researcher Luca Sapienza of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, the new technique is sort of a twist on a red-eye reducing camera flash, where the first flash causes the subject’s pupils to close and the second illuminates the scene. Instead of a xenon-powered flash, the NIST team uses two LEDs.
In their setup, one LED activates the quantum dots when it flashes (so the LED gives the quantum dots red-eye). At the same time, a second, different color LED flash illuminates metallic orientation marks placed on the surface of the semiconductor wafer the dots are embedded in. Then a sensitive camera snaps a 100-micrometer by 100-micrometer picture.
By cross-referencing the glowing dots with the orientation marks, the researchers can determine the dots’ locations with an uncertainty of less than 30 nanometers. The coordinates in hand, scientists can then tell the computer-controlled electron beam lithography tool to place the control structures in the correct places, with the result being many more usable devices.
Using this technique, the researchers demonstrated grating-based single photon sources in which they were able to collect 50 percent of the quantum dot’s emitted photons, the theoretical limit for this type of structure.
They also demonstrated that more than 99 percent of the light produced from their source came out as single photons. Such high purity is partly due to the fact that the location technique helps the researchers to quickly survey the wafer (10,000 square micrometers at a time) to find regions where the quantum dot density is especially low, only about one per 1,000 square micrometers. This makes it far more likely that each grating device contains one—and only one—quantum dot.
This work was performed in part at NIST’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), a national user facility available to researchers from industry, academia and government. In addition to NIST and the University of Southampton, researchers from the University of Rochester contributed to this work.
* L. Sapienza, M. Davanço, A. Badolato and K. Srinivasan. Nanoscale optical positioning of single quantum dots for bright and pure
single-photon emission. Nature Communications, 6, 7833 doi:10.1038/ncomms8833. Published 27 July 2015.