This grant provides funding to develop electrical discharge machining (EDM) process for nanometer scale cutting, "top-down" nanoscale machining. Initial experiments have successfully demonstrated feasibility of this technical approach to machine 40 nm (diameter) by 30 nm (deep) circular vias in atomically flat gold deposited on mica. Proposed nano-EDM process offers a unique and cogent opportunity to write precise nano structures, such as vias, at low cost (0.25 cent/hole according to current projection for a batch of 10x10 holes) and ultra high speed (currently the speed is 2 holes/minute for 25 nm dia x 15 nm deep hole), unlike the established processes such as focused ion-beam (FIB) and electron beam lithography (EBL). The investigators will explore theoretically and experimentally the role of process conditions and study effect of discharge energy density, voltage pulse duration, and discharge gap between the tool tip and the workpiece electrodes in various media. The unique collaboration between the U of A and UNL will bring interdisciplinary expertise and laboratory resources in related fields of nano mechanical machining, nano scale measurements, surface science and macro- and micro-EDM.
The success of nano-EDM will practically allow the industry to work on gamut of electrically conducting as well as semiconducting materials in a non-vacuum environment. Nano-EDM will be instrumental for a wide range of emerging applications viz. nano vias for interconnects, single DNA detection device fabrication, etc. Further in the broader impact to the society, the PIs plan to introduce a course in the area of "Nano Mechanical Machining for Manufacturing". In the proposed research, the special emphasis will be to train underrepresented minorities. PIs will build partnerships with area schools and community colleges. Training is inevitable today, to the manufacturing community particularly in the Midwest, to create and retain new high paid nanomanufacturing related jobs in US.