An Osaka University research team has demonstrated an "atomic pen" that can inscribe nano-sized text on metal by manipulating individual atoms on the surface.
According to the researchers, whose results appear in the October 17 edition of Science magazine, the atomic pen is built on a previous discovery that silicon atoms at the tip of an atomic force microscope probe will interchange with the tin atoms in the surface of a semiconductor sample when in close proximity. Using this atom-interchange phenomenon, the researchers were able to arrange individual silicon atoms one by one on a semiconductor surface to spell out the letters "Si." The writing process, which took about an hour and a half to complete, was conducted at room temperature.
The completed text measures 2 x 2 nanometers, which is roughly 40,000 times smaller than the width of the average human hair.
"It's not possible to write any smaller than this," said Masayuki Abe, a researcher involved in the project.
The ability to incorporate individual atoms into a surface could lead to a variety of advances in atomic scale technology, the researchers suggest. If used in chip manufacturing, for example, this technology could help build powerful computers the size of a wristwatch.