A method, now undergoing development, of forming nanochannels in planar substrates is intended to enable the fabrication of advanced fluidic devices that could be integrated with complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) electronic circuits. Such integral combinations of fluidic and electronic components ("laboratory-on-a-chip" devices) could be used, for example, to detect individual molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and proteins. The width of a channel in such a device would be chosen so that molecules of the species of interest would move along the channel in single file.

These Scanning Electron Micrographs show channels of two different widths that were fabricated by the present method. In a finished device, the channels would be covered with an SiO2 membrane, which would be sufficiently transparent to enable analysis of specimens in the channels by use of a fluorescence microscope.

In addition to being intended to enable the tailoring of the width of each channel to a uniform value of the order of several nanometers, the developmental method is intended to satisfy the following other requirements:

  • A channel must be optically transparent when viewed along a line perpendicular to the plane of the substrate;
  • The process of formation of the channels must be compatible with CMOS circuitry and with the processes of fabrication of CMOS circuitry;
  • Relative to processes that have been used to fabricate devices containing microchannels, this process must be simple.

In this method, the fabrication of channels includes the use of such CMOS-compatible processes as chemical-mechanical polishing and oxide deposition. The layout of the channels in the substrate plane is determined by a single photolithographic process, but it is not a nanoscale lithographic process, and this process is not relied upon to define the thickness and width of the channels. Stating it from a slightly different perspective, unlike in the prior fabrication of electronic and fluidic devices involving the use of lithography to define microscale features, this process does not include the use of lithography to define nanoscale features. It is this aspect of the method that enables simplification of the process and, hence, a decrease in cost.

A typical fabrication process according to this method includes, among other things, thermal oxidation to form a layer of SiO2 on a silicon substrate, followed by deposition of a layer of Si3N4, followed by deposition of a first layer of polycrystalline silicon (poly-Si). The depth of the channel(s) is determined by the thickness of the first poly-Si layer. The width of the channels (see figure) is determined by the thickness of the SiO2 layer, which thickness is readily controllable and can be made extremely uniform.

This work was done by Choonsup Lee and Eui-Hyeok Yang of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management
Mail Stop 202-233
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109-8099
(818) 354-2240
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to NPO-30678.

ORIGINAL URL - /Briefs/Feb04/NPO30678.html

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Fabrication of Channels for Nanobiotechnological Devices.

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This article first appeared in the February, 2004 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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