Many of the properties of nanostructured materials and devices such as their small size, low power consumption and sensitivity to the outside environment make them ideal for use in sensor systems. Over the next quarter century, the world will move towards large distributed sensing networks that are continuously sensing the environment around us in real time and relaying that information to our smart phones and other devices, so that we can make informed decisions about our health and well being. For example, sensors in medical implants will monitor how well the body is accepting the implant and alert us when there is a problem, and sensors in our clothing will be able track our movements and monitor our blood pressure or other vital signs. Nanoscale sensors are ideal for such distributed sensing networks because their small size and low power consumption allow them to be incorporated into many products without changing their look or feel. However, new methods for manufacturing low cost sensors at high volumes need to be developed in order to make this type of distributed sensing possible.
Research in the NDML is focused on the design and implementation of processes and equipment to manufacture nanoscale materials and devices. As materials and mechanisms are scaled down to the nanoscale, new physical phenomena emerge that result in unique and extraordinary mechanical, electrical and thermal properties. However, taking advantage of these properties and creating useful, marketable products has proven difficult. These difficulties result from our inability to quickly and precisely incorporate the correct number and types of nanostructures and nanoscale mechanisms into micro/macroscale structures. To overcome these limitations and successfully fabricate new nanoscale structures and devices, new nanomanufacturing processes and equipment must be developed.
Currently, the biggest challenge in the development of nanoscale systems is taking bench-level demonstrations of nanoscale physical phenomena and turning them into practical, manufacturable products. Very few nanoscale devices have been incorporated into marketable products because we have been unable to manufacture reliable, repeatable nanoscale devices in high volumes and at low cost. Our approach to solving this problem is three-pronged: (1) develop new assembly methods to better integrate nanomaterials into micro/macroscale devices; (2) increase manufacturability of nanoscale systems through improved device design; and (3) improve quality and throughput of nanoscale device manufacturing through the design and fabrication of novel nanomanufacturing equipment and processes. Our research, therefore, focus on projects in these three areas, to simplify the design and fabrication process for nanoscale systems and to improve the precision, accuracy and throughput of new nanomanufacturing processes and equipment.