Gold spheres can drill holes in ceramic materials

Nanotechnologists of the University of Twente have discovered that spherical gold particles, when heated, can 'drill' nanometre diameter tunnels in ceramic materials. The team believes this could be an easy way to equip chips with nanopores; for DNA analysis, for example.

Researcher Lennart de Vreede applied a large number of microscopic gold discs on a surface of silicon dioxide. When heated for several hours, the gold moved perpendicularly to the surface, like nanometre sized spheres. According to de Vreede, nine hours of heating resulted in an 800nm tunnel 25nm in diameter; results normally achieved by using complex processes. All nanotunnels then form a sieve. Leaving the tunnel closed at one end, leaves open the possibility of creating molds for nano structures.

Once heated close to their melting point, the 1┬Ám gold discs form spheres and 'push away' the SiO2, creating a circular 'ridge'. When the spheres move into the SiO2, the ball gets smaller and there is a continuos movement of the SiO2.

In DNA sequencing applications, De Vreede foresees a DNA string being pulled through one of these nano channels, allowing the nucleotides to be analysed subsequently. He also expects the 'gold method' to be applicable to other ceramic materials and has recently experimented with silicon nitride.

Graham Pitcher

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