Pitt receives new technology, set to conquer the Internet


Prepare for the smallest game of chess ever. With some of Pitt’s newest technology, it’s… Prepare for the smallest game of chess ever. With some of Pitt’s newest technology, it’s possible to make a game piece with a width of only 200 microns.

“Their width is 100 times smaller than that of a human hair,” said physics professor Jeremy Levy, who is in charge of Pitt’s newest piece of equipment.

“But we didn’t buy it to play games,” Levy added.

It’s nano-fabrication, the ability to create and destroy on a very small scale.

Pitt now has a Raith electron beam lithography and nano engineering workstation – with an electron beam capable of adding and taking away from materials to create incredibly small objects.

The device uses five small capillaries – hollow injection needles – to add specific gases and materials to a small surface. Then a small beam of electrons acts to help these gases interact with the object to shape it.

One of Levy’s research goals is to create a quantum computer, which would allow the device to take shortcuts in some of its calculations, producing an incredibly fast computer in some cases.

“You could break all the codes in the Internet,” Levy joked.

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, 1,000 nanometers is a micron and 100 microns is about the width of a single strand of hair.

So the technology is by definition precise.

The electron beam can be focused to a diameter of two nanometers, or about twice the distance between two atoms in a solid object.

Levy said that the possibilities of this technology include building incredibly small conductors, since the workstation can “etch” wires 10 nanometers in diameter onto a surface.

“While you’re exposing the material to the electrons, you can put in different materials, like platinum or tungsten. Even water can be used to etch materials,” Levy said.

Even though the equipment has only been at Pitt for a couple of weeks, a press release from the University said that eight researchers at Pitt’s Institute of NanoScience and Engineering have already completed a week-long training course.

“It’s mind expanding,” Levy said. “It’s allowing you to do things you never thought possible.”

Levy said that many departments have expressed an interest in using the technology, from the physics, chemistry and astronomy departments to electrical and biological engineering.

“What is common to all of them is that they have the need to shape things at the nano scale,” Levy said.

Cheng Cen, a physics graduate student who has worked with the machine for two weeks, said that while there is still a lot she wants to learn about the workstation, she knows how beneficial the technology will be.

“To have such an advanced and complex machine to use is really good to have,” Cen said.

Levy encouraged graduate students at Pitt who have an interest in using the workstation for projects to sign up for a weekly training session through the physics department.

“It’s meant to be a user facility,” Levy said

But he warned that it takes much longer than a week to become an expert with the workstation.

“It’s more like learning the rules of the game as opposed to being a grandmaster,” Levy said.

Levy said that the University is preparing a more permanent home for the equipment in the sub-basement of Benedum Hall.

Pitt’s purchase makes the University the first institution in the country to have this technology, since it has recently become available commercially.

This workstation is the first in a trio of machines to help develop Pitt’s nano-technology field.

The second will be an ion beam, and the third will be a transmission electron microscope. Both will be delivered early next year.