In order to align these nanotubes on the surface, the researchers drew on a principle of self-organization that is actually quite common in nature. Wind may for instance form ordered patterns on a sandy beach. "Similar processes are at work here," explains Keller. "We irradiate the surface onto which we want to place the nanostructures - in our case, the silicon wafers - with ions. This results in the spontaneous appearance of ordered nanopatterns resembling miniature sand dunes. At that point, our job is pretty much done as natural processes are taking over and doing all the work."
Through electrostatic interactions between the charged DNA nanostructures and the charged surface, the nanotubes align themselves in the valleys of the dunes. Says Keller: "This technique works so well that not only do the small tubes follow the wavy patterns, they even replicate occasional pattern defects. Meaning this technique should also allow for production of curved nanocomponents." The maximum degree of alignment the Dresden researchers were able to obtain was at a pattern wavelength of 30 nanometers. "True, we're only looking at a total yield of 70 percent of nanotubes that perfectly follow the pattern," concedes Keller. "But it's still impressive considering the natural process we used."
Because unlike previous approaches, according to Keller, the new technique is quick, cheap, and simple. "Until now, we had to draw on lithographic techniques plus treat the surface with chemicals in order to align the DNA nanostructures. Although this does produce the desired outcome, it nonetheless complicates the processes. Our new technique offers a much simpler alternative." Since aligning the small tubes is based exclusively on electrostatic interaction with the prestructured surface, using this particular method the nanotubes could also be arranged into more complex arrays such as electronic circuits. Keller is convinced that they can be attached to individual transistors, for instance, and connect them electrically: "This way, DNA based nanocomponents could be integrated into technological devices and contribute to further miniaturization."
Keywords for this news article include: Nanotube,
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