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Faster microdevice fabrication

NSF Award:

Transforming Kentucky's New Economy  (University of Kentucky Research Foundation)

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Lithography is a process in which a variety of structures are formed on a photoresist or light-sensitive polymer. The structures are formed when light shines through a patterned opaque plate called a photomask. During the conventional process, the photoresist is exposed to either all or none of the light.

A more precise process, grayscale lithography, creates complex, 3-D structures on photoresists. This technique controls the intensity of light in each region of the photoresist, enabling researchers to develop the polymer at varying depths. The process permits fabrication of curved structures such as ramps, domes and microfluidic devices that otherwise would be impossible to produce.

Grayscale lithography's main drawback involves the time-intensive creation of photomask files required to generate complex 3-D structures. However, through the Kentucky Optical Resources (KORE) initiative, the Kentucky NanoNET's (KYNN) University of Louisville (UofL) node developed custom software that automatically converts stereolithography format files-- easily created in 3-D modeling programs such as SolidWorksTM-- into grayscale photomask files accepted by a Heidelberg laser pattern generator.

The conversion software may fundamentally change the way that microdevices are made and expand exponentially the type of structures produced. A provisional patent application for this software has been filed. Recently, representatives from an international semiconductor company visited the UofL and talks are underway to license this technology for commercial use.

NSF EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) supports the KORE initiative through KYNN.


  • a microfabricated 3-d part
A microfabricated 3-D part.
James Loomis

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