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Nanoscale etching and indentation of silicon (100) surface with carbon nanotubes

Fedor N. Dzegilenko* Deepak Srivastava, and Subhash Saini

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035

This is an abstract for a presentation given at the
Sixth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.
The full article is available at


The possibility of nanolithography of silicon and germanium surfaces with bare carbon nanotube tips of scanning probe microscopy devices is considered with large scale classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations employing Tersoff's reactive many-body potential for heteroatomic C/Si/Ge system. Lithography plays a key role in semiconductor manufacturing, and it is expected that future molecular and quantum electronic devices will be fabricated with nanolithographic and nanodeposition techniques. Carbon nanotubes, rolled up sheets of graphene made of carbon, are excellent candidates for use in nanolithography because they are extremely strong along axial direction and yet extremely elastic along radial direction.

In the simulations, the interaction of a carbon nanotube tip with silicon surfaces is explored in two regimes. In the first scenario, the nanotubes barely touch the surface, while in the second they are pushed into the surface to make "nano holes". The first - gentle - scenario mimics the nanotube-surface chemical reaction induced by the vertical mechanical manipulation of the nanotube. The second -digging - scenario intends to study the indentation profiles. The following results are reported in the two cases. In the first regime, depending on the surface impact site, two major outcomes are the selective removal of either a single surface atom or a surface dimer off the silicon surface. In the second regime, the indentation of a silicon substrate by the nanotube is observed. Upon the nanotube withdrawal, several surface silicon atoms are adsorbed at the tip of the nanotube causing significant rearrangements of atoms comprising the surface layer of the silicon substrate. The results are explained in terms of relative strength of C-C, C-Si, and Si-Si bonds. The proposed method is very robust and does not require applied voltage between the nanotube tips and the surface. The implications of the reported controllable etching and hole-creating for nanolithography on silicon are discussed in detail.

*Corresponding Address:
Fedor Dzegilenko
NASA Ames Research Center
M/S T27A-1, Moffett Field, CA 94035
phone: 650) 604-1776, fax: (650) 604-3957
e-mail:, Web:


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