The main goal of the atoms-to-products program is to create technology and processes needed to create nanometer-scale pieces, with dimensions almost the size of atoms, into components and materials only millimeter scale in size. And to spur developments in the program DARPA has now posed the challenge to 10 laboratories across the nation.
To get the full benefits of nanoscale engineering at the millimeter scale, the organization has partnered with Intelligent Materials Solutions. "Our initial project will be to control infrared light by assembling nanoscale particles into finished components that are one million times larger," explains Adam Gross, the team leader working closely with Christopher Roper to bring the Atoms-to Products project to fruition.
To date, nanoscale fabrication techniques follow a subtractive process like photolithography. Following a process the requires the assembly of three dimensional structures atom-by-atom, the team hopes to extend the quantum effects achieved at the nanoscale to millimeter scale chips.
"We have already shown we can assemble two types of nanoparticles for the control of infrared light," said Gross. "We assemble layer-upon-layer of spherical diffraction gratings. Our first milestone will be to assemble two types of sub-200 nanometer gratings into 210 micron assemblies that maintain their nanoscale properties."
Achieving this next step will likely require a year out of the three year program. Following this, the team will look into assembling these micro-scale subassemblies into millimeter scale products that hope to maintain the quantum effects and lower the melting points.