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Hard-tip, soft-spring lithography


Nanofabrication strategies are becoming increasingly expensive and equipment-intensive, and consequently less accessible to researchers. As an alternative, scanning probe lithography has become a popular means of preparing nanoscale structures, in part owing to its relatively low cost and high resolution, and a registration accuracy that exceeds most existing technologies1,2,3,4,5,6. However, increasing the throughput of cantilever-based scanning probe systems while maintaining their resolution and registration advantages has from the outset been a significant challenge7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17. Even with impressive recent advances in cantilever array design, such arrays tend to be highly specialized for a given application, expensive, and often difficult to implement. It is therefore difficult to imagine commercially viable production methods based on scanning probe systems that rely on conventional cantilevers. Here we describe a low-cost and scalable cantilever-free tip-based nanopatterning method that uses an array of hard silicon tips mounted onto an elastomeric backing. This method—which we term hard-tip, soft-spring lithography—overcomes the throughput problems of cantilever-based scanning probe systems and the resolution limits imposed by the use of elastomeric stamps and tips: it is capable of delivering materials or energy to a surface to create arbitrary patterns of features with sub-50-nm resolution over centimetre-scale areas. We argue that hard-tip, soft-spring lithography is a versatile nanolithography strategy that should be widely adopted by academic and industrial researchers for rapid prototyping applications.

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Figure 1: Fabrication of an HSL tip array.
Figure 2: HSL tip arrays.
Figure 3: Operating principles and single tip capabilities.
Figure 4: High-resolution parallel HSL writing.


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C.A.M. acknowledges the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US NSF (NSEC program) for support of this research. C.A.M is grateful for a NSSEF Fellowship from the US Department of Defense. A.B.B is grateful for a NRSA fellowship from the US NIH. We thank Z. Zheng for discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



W.S. and C.A.M designed all experiments. W.S., A.B.B. and C.A.M contributed to this work in analysing results and drafting the manuscript. W.S., A.B.B., X.L., J.C., J.K.L. and G.Z. also performed experiments and helped with revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chad A. Mirkin.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figures

The file contains Supplementary Figures 1-9 with legends. (PDF 2706 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

The movie shows the Si tip array alignment procedure. (MOV 7938 kb)

Supplementary Movie 2

The movie shows the resiliency of the tip architecture. (MOV 3500 kb)

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Shim, W., Braunschweig, A., Liao, X. et al. Hard-tip, soft-spring lithography. Nature 469, 516–520 (2011).

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