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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/K024701/1
Title: Neon Focussed-Ion-Beam Nanofabrication
Principal Investigator: Warburton, Professor PA
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Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Imperial College London Kings College London
Department: London Centre for Nanotechnology
Organisation: UCL
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 June 2013 Ends: 31 January 2019 Value (£): 43,571
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Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
24 Oct 2012 EPSRC Equipment Business Case - 24th and 25th October 2012 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Our vision is to create a state-of-the-art three-dimensional nanofabrication facility for development of electron, photonic and nanofluidic devices, based on the neon focussed-ion-beam (FIB) instrument. It will transform the nanofabrication capabilities of the UK science and engineering community by offering rapid prototyping of devices with feature sizes below 10 nm. By using neon as the primary ion species, sampling poisoning effects will be radically reduced by comparison with conventional gallium-ion FIB. Neon beams also permit high-quality nanoscale machining of silicon, which is not possible with the recently-introduced helium-ion FIB. Furthermore sputtering rates (which ultimate limit throughput) are an order of magnitude higher than with helium ions, allowing significant volumes of material to be machined within laboratory timescales.

Over the last twenty years, FIB has become a dominant nanofabrication tool for research labs. It is particularly well suited to the research environment since prototype devices can very quickly be created without the need for extensive process development. The Achilles heel of commercial FIB systems, however, is that (until recently) they all use gallium ions. The reactivity and high mobility of these gallium ions once they have been (unavoidably) implanted into a nanofabricated sample often leads to deleterious sample poisoning effects. For example, the properties of correlated electron systems in functional oxides intimately depend upon the oxygen stoichiometry and order; in most oxides these are irreversibly perturbed by Ga ions. Similarly the optical losses in plasmonic nano-apertures are limited by the damage done to the Ga-ion-milled dielectric. Furthermore, the electrical properties of nanoelectronic devices are also directly affected by Ga implantation.

Recognising these limitations, Carl Zeiss released a new FIB microscope five years ago in which the Ga source is replaced by a helium gas field-ion source (GFIS). The main advantage over Ga is that the ion species is now an inert gas, thereby removing the sample poisoning problem at a stroke. The helium GFIS FIB microscope is therefore a rival to the field-emission scanning electron microscope for imaging applications. The obvious disadvantage of using helium, however, is that the sputter yield (i.e. the rate at which material is removed by incident ions) is typically 30 times smaller for He ions than for Ga ions. This greatly increases the fabrication time, rendering He ions unsuitable for many applications.

This naturally suggests the use of heavier inert gases in the GFIS, an opportunity which Carl Zeiss are now realising with its new neon GFIS FIB system. (This product is scheduled to be released in September 2012.) The sputter yield for neon ions is typically ten times greater than that for He ions. For nanofabrication applications the use of neon represents an ideal combination of rapid fabrication and minimal poisoning. Demonstrations of neon-ion nanofabrication at Carl Zeiss's development laboratory show machined resolution better than 10 nm. This rivals that obtainable with state of the art electron-beam lithography, with the added advantages of rapid prototyping and the possibility (since FIB is a resist-less technique, allowing the beam to be aligned at an arbitrary angle with respect to the sample surface) of three-dimensional nanopatterning.

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