Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tiny Robots Get A Grip On Nanotubes

Date:
August 24, 2009
Source:
ICT Results
Summary:
How do you handle the tiny components needed for constructing nanoscale devices? A European consortium has built two microrobotic demonstrators that can automatically pick up and install carbon nanotubes thousands of times thinner than a human hair.

How do you handle the tiny components needed for constructing nanoscale devices? A European consortium has built two microrobotic demonstrators that can automatically pick up and install carbon nanotubes thousands of times thinner than a human hair.

Related Articles


Carbon nanotubes, rolled up sheets of carbon only a few tens of nanometres in diameter, could become an essential part of the nanotechnologist’s construction kit. But there is a problem: how can you handle objects which are so thin that they cannot be seen at all with a normal optical microscope?

“The handling and characterisation of these objects has become more and more important in materials science and nanotechnology,” says Volkmar Eichhorn of the University of Oldenburg and its associated institute, OFFIS. “They have a huge application potential in various products.”

One solution, developed by the EU-funded NanoHand project, is to use mobile microrobots equipped with delicate handling tools. NanoHand builds on the work of ROBOSEM, an earlier EU project that developed the basic technologies that are now being put into effect.

The robots, about two centimetres in size, work inside a scanning electron microscope where their activities can be followed by an observer. “The whole set-up is integrated into the vacuum chamber of the microscope,” Eichhorn explains. “There is a glass plate where these mobile microrobots can walk around.”

Microgrippers

Each robot has a ‘microgripper’ that can make precise and delicate movements. It works on an electrothermal principle to open and close the jaws, much like a pair of tweezers.

The jaws open to about 2 micrometres and can pick up objects less than 100 nanometres in size. “[It is] really able to grip micro or even nano objects,” Eichhorn says. “We have handled objects down to tens of nanometres.”

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 deposition. 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.

“Worldwide, we are the first project that has really realised the automated microgripper-based pick-and-place experiments,” Eichhorn notes. “The new thing is the high accuracy and the small scale of the objects – in the range of tens or hundreds of nanometres – and the excellent control and software architecture being built around this whole set-up facilitating a high degree of automation.”

Better microscope

An early success of the project was to improve the performance of an atomic force microscope, a workhorse of nanotechnology.

The microscope ‘feels’ a surface by dragging a fine probe over it. Individual atoms can be sensed and a picture built up. But conventional probes have a pyramid-shaped tip which cannot follow the hills and valleys of deeply corrugated surfaces. The NanoHand team used their microrobots to automatically pick up a carbon nanotube and attach it to the tip, so greatly improving the probe’s ability to sense deep valleys.

This achievement was made with the ‘NanoLab’ demonstrator, designed for use in experimental laboratory situations.

In parallel, the industrial partners have developed a more robust ‘NanoFab’ demonstrator, better suited to the needs of industry. They 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.

This application is of particular interest to STMicroelectronics, one of the project partners and a heavyweight maker of microchips. “They would like to have a nanorobotic system where they can do fast and rapid characterisation of these devices,” says Eichhorn. “Up to now, it was a manual, teleoperated characterisation which was very time consuming.”

Early exploitation

Many other industrial applications are possible, including novel devices that could not be constructed any other way. Applications in composite materials, displays and new kinds of transistors are all being talked about.

Other groups are working on methods of handling nanotubes, especially in the USA, Japan and China, but the NanoHand system of microrobots and microgrippers is proving effective and reliable. “It’s very promising for nanotechnology applications,” says Eichhorn.

From the start, the project has been run with commercialisation in mind and the first product is already on the market. Two of the industrial partners, Tescan and Klocke Nanotechnik, are collaborating to sell a scanning electron microscope equipped with a nanopositioning system based on NanoHand technology.

The Technical University of Denmark (DTU Nanotech) intends to set up a spin-off to market the microgrippers and the Ecoles Polytechniques Fιdιrale de Lausanne (EPFL) is seeking to further develop the microrobots to the point where they can be commercialised.

NanoHand received funding from the ICT strand of the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ICT Results. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

ICT Results. "Tiny Robots Get A Grip On Nanotubes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090819083905.htm>.
ICT Results. (2009, August 24). Tiny Robots Get A Grip On Nanotubes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090819083905.htm
ICT Results. "Tiny Robots Get A Grip On Nanotubes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090819083905.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Building Google Into Cars

Building Google Into Cars

Reuters - Business Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) — Google's next Android version could become the standard that'll power your vehicle's entertainment and navigation features, Reuters has learned. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) — What to buy an experienced photographer or video shooter? There is some strong gear on the market from Nikon and GoPro. The AP's Ron Harris takes a closer look. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) — A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) — The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins