A device capable of building structures molecule by molecule and at high speed could be used to guide the growth of replacement body parts and build miniaturised organic electronic circuits.
The University of Sheffield will lead a consortium to develop a new method of manufacturing carbon-based molecular assemblies in a £3.1m four-year project. The group, which also includes Glasgow, Manchester and Nottingham universities, will adapt an existing technology to build a device for manufacturing the assemblies in the first phase of the project.
Researchers will then develop new applications for the device during the latter half of the project. These could include lightweight and flexible electronic devices built from carbon molecules, which could allow chip manufacturers to overcome the fundamental limitations on the performance of silicon as components shrink ever smaller. The device could build synthetic templates to engineer the reconnection of nerves severed in injury, or skin destroyed by burns.
Sheffield’s professor of chemistry Graham Leggett was the first to develop one of the methods that will be studied as a candidate for engineering molecules at speed. Scanning near-field photolithography (SNP) places a light source so close to a surface that it can pattern molecular structures as small 13nm across. Despite Leggett’s success with SNP, other methods will also be considered.