Carpetlike random arrays of metal-coated silicon nanotips have been shown to be effective as antireflection surfaces. Now undergoing development for incorporation into Sun sensors that would provide guidance for robotic exploratory vehicles on Mars, nanotip carpets of this type could also have many uses on Earth as antireflection surfaces in instruments that handle or detect ultraviolet, visible, or infrared light.

Figure 1. A Random Array of Nanotips is formed on the flat substrate surface surrounding an aperture. The nanotips are coated with Cr/Au to enhance absorption of light. The Cr layer on the rear surface serves as a light attenuator.

In the original Sun-sensor application, what is required is an array of 50-μm-diameter apertures on what is otherwise an opaque, minimally reflective surface, as needed to implement a miniature multiple-pinhole camera. The process for fabrication of an antireflection nanotip carpet for this application (see Figure 1) includes, and goes somewhat beyond, the process described in "A New Process for Fabricating Random Silicon Nanotips" (NPO-40123), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 28, No. 1 (November 2004), page 62. In the first step, which is not part of the previously reported process, photolithography is performed to deposit etch masks to define the 50-μm apertures on a silicon substrate. In the second step, which is part of the previously reported process, the non-masked silicon area between the apertures is subjected to reactive ion etching (RIE) under a special combination of conditions that results in the growth of fluorine-based compounds in randomly distributed formations, known in the art as "polymer RIE grass," that have dimensions of the order of microns.

Figure 2. The Antireflection Nanotip Carpet surrounding the aperture absorbs most of the incident light. The reflectance of the carpet at a wavelength of 1 μm was found to be 0.06 percent of that of an aluminum mirror.

The polymer RIE grass formations serve as microscopic etch masks during the next step, in which deep reactive ion etching (DRIE) is performed. What remains after DRIE is the carpet of nanotips, which are high-aspect-ratio peaks, the tips of which have radii of the order of nanometers. Next, the nanotip array is evaporatively coated with Cr/Au to enhance the absorption of light (more specifically, infrared light in the Sun- sensor application). The photoresist etch masks protecting the apertures are then removed by dipping the substrate into acetone. Finally, for the Sun-sensor application, the back surface of the substrate is coated with a 57-nm-thick layer of Cr for attenuation of sunlight.

This work was done by Youngsam Bae, Sohrab Mobasser, Harish Manohara, and Choonsup Lee 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
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Refer to NPO-42592, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

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Nanotip Carpets as Antireflection Surfaces

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This article first appeared in the September, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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