Science Research at UvA-VU: ARCNL
Dr Stefan Witte is researcher at the Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL), where physicists from the University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam cooperate closely in the field of nanolithography. But what kind of research do they do there exactly?
The Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL) was established in November 2013. This institute is a collaborative venture involving VU University Amsterdam, the University of Amsterdam, the FOM Institute, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and ASML. The latter is a company that makes machines for the production of computer chips and is a major developer of applications used in physics research.
Nanolithography (‘nano’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘dwarf’) is a branch of nanotechnology that focuses on creating applications for nanostructures. Or, in the words of Dr Stefan Witte (VU University Amsterdam): ‘It is an aspect of physics that involves creating structures on very small surfaces, such as computer chips. The power of this technique lies in the number of structures (each just a few dozen billionths of a centimetre across) that can be fitted onto a single chip. These are becoming astonishingly small. We are talking about structures that are only around a hundred atoms wide.”
Such nanostructures are much too small to be visible to the naked eye, so special equipment is needed. Stefan Witte points out that ‘one of the devices we are currently using for this purpose is the atomic force microscope. This uses an ultrafine needle to scan the surface in minute detail. However, this method is complex and time-consuming.’
As the group leader of a research group, Dr Witte has developed a technique for viewing significant areas of a nano-surface all at one go, rather than one bit at a time. He devised a lensless microscope that illuminates an object with extreme ultraviolet light, then detects the scattered light to produce a type of photograph displaying the surface structures. Witte adds: ‘Our initial results confirm that this is a powerful tool for imaging nanostructures. It’s an entirely new approach, offering numerous opportunities both for fundamental research and for applications. This research can be of enormous value.’
Three new researchers will be joining his team in the summer. Dr Witte is very impressed with the smooth cooperation between the science faculties. ‘The University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam naturally differ in terms of their physics research focus, so their areas of expertise are largely complementary and mutually reinforcing. Together, they actually represent a complete package of the various aspects of physics. That combined expertise was also a major factor underpinning the decision to establish the ARCNL here in Amsterdam.’