A team of researchers led by George Barbastathis, MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering, is developing the basic principles of nano-origami, a new technique that allows engineers to fold nanoscale materials into simple 3-D structures. The tiny folded materials could be used as motors and capacitors, potentially leading to better computer memory storage, faster microprocessors and new nanophotonic devices.
Traditional micro- and nano-fabrication techniques such as X-ray lithography and nano-imprinting work beautifully for two-dimensional structures, and are commonly used to build microprocessors and other micro-electrical-mechanical (MEMS) devices. However, they cannot create 3-D structures.
The MIT team uses conventional lithography tools to pattern 2-D materials at the nanoscale, then folds them into predetermined 3-D shapes, opening a new realm of possible applications.
Researchers have already demonstrated a 3-D nanoscale capacitor, developed in collaboration with MIT Professor Yang Shao-Horn, which was presented at the 2005 meeting of the Electrochemical Society. The current model has only one fold but the more folds that are added, the more energy it will be able to store. Extra layers also promote faster information flow, just as the human brain's many folds allow for quicker communication between brain regions, says Nader Shaar, a mechanical engineering graduate student working on the project.
Getting the materials to fold back and forth into an accordion-like structure has been one of the researchers' biggest challenges, along with getting the faces and edges to line up accurately.