In the forefront of nanotechnology development, NASA’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has acquired
one of the world’s finest electron beam lithography systems,
one that will allow researchers to work on the sub-molecular

For NASA, this means breakthroughs in miniaturization
that could lead to significant reductions in mass and cost of
spacecraft to look for traces of life on distant planets. For
researchers, it means access to one of only three such systems
in the world, and the only one in the public sector devoted to
pure research for building the nano-scale devices of the

“We want to let researchers from universities, private
industry and other government institutions know that we now
have this capability and that it is available for their use,”
said Dr. Barbara Wilson, chief technologist for JPL.

Operated in the Microdevices Laboratory at JPL, the E-
Beam lithography system provides a tool for delving into the
realm of nanotechnology, where individual molecules become
accessible to electronic probing.

“The E-Beam lithography system will allow researchers to
work at the equivalent level of nature’s biological building
blocks, by allowing them to create and research technologies
at the cellular and sub-cellular level,” said Dr. Paul Maker,
manager of the Electron Beam Lithography Laboratory at JPL.
Lithography is the process of printing a pattern onto a
surface, such as a silicon chip or a high-resolution film.

“The E-Beam lithography system is like a very fast, very
high-resolution camera, but instead of exposing photo-
sensitive film to light, a thin layer of electron-sensitive
material is exposed to electrons,” said Maker. “Instead of
using a shutter that imprints the whole image at once, an
intense electron beam focused to a tiny spot is rastered over
the chip like the
beam that creates the image on a television screen.” Just as
with photographic film, subsequent processing steps develop
the image that was imprinted on the film, in this case the
device structure.

JPL’s new system allows users to “write” 10 times faster
with a spot two times smaller than can be done with the system
currently in place, installed 12 years ago. “The faster
‘writing’ speed means we can fabricate many more of these
experimental chips, thereby reducing the time it takes to
perfect a new chip design. The higher resolution translates
into device designs with much finer detail, leading to
smaller, more capable chips,” said Maker.

NASA faces the challenge of miniaturizing all aspects of
its space systems, with the ultimate goal of reducing the
size and mass of instruments by orders of magnitude without
sacrificing performance — like creating an entire laboratory
on a chip with the same sensitivity as the room-size version.

“Since this machine is capable of producing patterns with
feature sizes on the scale of molecules,” said Maker, “we can
now develop miniature devices that allow us to manipulate and
characterize these minute building blocks of nature, and
create tools that can be used to search for the signatures of
life in a controlled manner.”

U.S. parties interested in using the system should send
e-mail to: . More information on
JPL’s Microdevices Laboratory is available at:

The Microdevices Laboratory is a facility operating under
the umbrella of the Center for Space Microelectronics
Technology. The Center for Space Microelectronics Technology,
founded in 1987, develops high-risk, high-payoff concepts and
devices to enable future space missions and to enhance current
and planned missions. The center conducts research and
development in such fields as biochemical sensors, solid-state
devices, photonics, integrated microsystems and advanced
computing. NASA’s Office of Space Science, the Department of
Defense’s Ballistic Missile Defense Office and JPL funded the
purchase of the new E-beam lithography system. Managed for
NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
JPL is the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the
solar system.


04/16/01 CM


NOTE TO EDITORS: Live satellite interviews are available with
Dr. Barbara Wilson, JPL’s chief technologist on Wednesday,
April 18. To book time for this interview, call Jack Dawson at
818-354-0040 or e-mail Jack at .

A video file with animation and B-roll will accompany this
release and is scheduled to air on NASA Television on April
17, 18 and 19 at noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight
EDT. NASA Television is available at GE-2, Transponder 9C at
85 degrees West longitude, with vertical polarization.
Frequency is on 3880.0 megahertz with audio on 6.8 megahertz.