The one on the left is a nanolaser, carved by high-energy plasma and strong
acid, and invisible to the naked eye. The one on the right is a hoodoo, carved
by wind and rain, and is approximately 20 million times larger. And about 60
million times older.
The reason they
It looks like it could be an image of desert badlands - except for that
strangely translucent wall. In fact, this scene is much, much smaller. An ant
could step over the wall without ever noticing its existence.
This image was taken through an electron microscope, of a microscopic landscape
Resembling arrays of flaming islands, these formations are actually microscopic,
etched out of semiconductor.
This semiconductor material is what we use to make microscopic lasers - we start
with a vast, featureless sheet of semiconductor and cover certain areas with a
protective layer of glassy photoresist. Then we blast the
It resembles a mushroom cloud, but in fact, it’s one of our microscopic
nanolasers, imaged under an electron microscope. These lasers are among the
smallest in the world, so small you could fit a billion of them on an iPhone
home button, small enough to one day fit easily
Strange formations caused when high-energy plasma from a reactive ion etcher
bombards semiconductor materials.
We use the reactive ion etcher to carve out microscopic optical devices, like
lasers and filters. Here, there’s no particular device that we were trying to
make - we were just testing to see if
The cliffs of fluffiness! Lashed by impossibly pointy nano-waves.
The fluffy stuff at the top is actually photoresist, a glassy substance that we
use to protect semiconductor from plasma bombardment when we’re doing our
etching. Here, the photoresist protected the semiconductor below it from being
etched away, making the
Sometimes the view under an electron microscope can be positively scary. I’ll
be scrolling along at low magnification, checking out some nanoscale features,
when all of a sudden a colossus will loom huge above the nanolandscape.
Sometimes I actually jump. Usually it’s a tiny microscopic speck of dust,
The long valley, surrounded by jagged mountains, occupied by a picturesque
leaning castle…. Actually, this is a closeup of a minuscule scratch in a
coating of photoresist. At this magnification (2096x), it’s clear that the
photoresist has a rough, mountainous surface, caused by the high-energy plasma
The beachgoers flee as hulking monsters climb from the dark water…
This is a scanning electron microscope image of some various-sized pillars that
appeared on one of my samples during a plasma etching test. They’re made of
semiconductor, and the bright plain beneath is silicon. Showing through the
The microscopic fractured edge of a piece of semiconductor looms like an
enormous cliff face. However, this entire view would fit easily inside the
diameter of a single human hair. At the top of the cliff is a rough dark layer,
the remains of a protective layer that we bombarded