An MIT device that makes the world’s most precise rulers – with ‘ticks’ only a few hundred billionths of a meter apart – could impact fields from the manufacture of computer chips to space physics.
Mark L. Schattenburg, leader of the team and director of MIT’s Space Nanotechnology Laboratory in the Center for Space Research, says he began the Nanoruler project because he wanted to create a better ruler for the semiconductor industry.
"Today’s advanced computer chips are packed with millions of transistors," he says, quoted in MIT News. "Increasingly, however, it becomes a challenge to stuff more and more of these ever-shrinking features into an area no larger than a thumbnail."
The Nanoruler is 10 to 1,000 times faster and more precise than other methods for patterning parallel lines and spaces (known collectively as gratings) across large surfaces more than 12 inches in diameter, says the story, going on:
"Such large surfaces are key to a number of applications involving gratings, such as larger wafers for the production of computer chips and higher-resolution space telescopes.
Schattenburg wanted an extremely well-made ruler whose ticks are nanometers rather than millimeters apart, and whose size is comparable to the largest commercial silicon wafers.
"If such a ruler could be created, it would help chip makers do a much better job of laying down the Lilliputian circuitry," he says.