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Atom-by-atom fabrication with electron beams

An Author Correction to this article was published on 20 February 2020

This article has been updated


Assembling matter atom-by-atom into functional devices is the ultimate goal of nanotechnology. The possibility of achieving this goal is intrinsically dependent on the ability to visualize matter at the atomic level, induce and control atomic-scale motion, facilitate and direct chemical reactions, and coordinate and guide fabrication processes towards desired structures atom-by-atom. In this Perspective, we summarize recent progress in chemical transformations, material alterations and atomic dynamics studies enabled by the converged, atomic-sized electron beam of an aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope. We discuss how such top-down observations have led to the concept of controllable, beam-induced processes and then of bottom-up, atom-by-atom assembly via electron-beam control. The progress in this field, from electron-beam-induced material transformations to atomically precise doping and multi-atom assembly, is reviewed, as are the associated engineering, theoretical and big-data challenges.

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Fig. 1: Several key examples of atomic-scale fabrication using electron beams.
Fig. 2: Applications of deep convolutional neural networks to atomic-scale image analysis.
Fig. 3: Conceptual schematic of a modern scanning transmission electron microscope updated to operate as an atom forge.
Fig. 4: Schematic representation of the increasingly complex milestone demonstrations on the road toward atom-by-atom device fabrication.

Change history

  • 20 February 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering Division (B.M.H., A.R.L. S.V.K.), the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, managed by UT-Battelle, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy (O.D., M.Z., S.J.), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science user facility (D.L. R.R.U.).

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O.D, M.Z, D.B.L. and R.R.U. researched data for the article, discussed the content, and wrote and edited the manuscript. A.R.L., S.J. and S.V.K. discussed the content and contributed to the writing and editing of the manuscript. B.M.H. contributed to the writing and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ondrej Dyck or Sergei V. Kalinin.

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Dyck, O., Ziatdinov, M., Lingerfelt, D.B. et al. Atom-by-atom fabrication with electron beams. Nat Rev Mater 4, 497–507 (2019).

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