Dr. Sven Achenbach
Canada Research Chair in Micro and Nano Device Fabrication
Working on a scale that can be 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair using some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, Dr. Sven Achenbach, Canada Research Chair in Micro and Nano Device Fabrication at the University of Saskatchewan, is leading the way in research and development in the rapidly expanding field of micro and nano structure fabrication. Such microsystems include, for instance, hard disc read/write heads, sensors for automotive motor management and navigation systems, or micromachined parts for hearing aids and heart pace makers.
At the Canadian Light Source synchrotron at the U of S, Dr. Achenbach is concentrating on establishing the Synchrotron Laboratory for Micro and Nano Devices (SyLMAND) where his expertise in using X-ray lithography will be the cornerstone of a facility that “incubates new ideas and drives new fields of research”. With a dedicated beamline and supporting facilities in a clean room environment, SyLMAND will be the Canadian centre for the development of microstructuring processes for innovative micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) applications based on deep X-ray lithography. Current research focuses on wireless, photonics and bio-medical applications.
Using synchrotron light, X-rays copy the layout of a mask into a polymer, such as Plexiglas. That polymer is then processed, much like a photograph, to remove material that has been chemically altered by exposure to the X-rays. The result, said Dr. Achenbach, “is a ready-made micro-structure” that can be used as a final product, or as a template in an electroforming process that creates metal structures. The advantage of synchrotron X-rays is that it is “very intense light and it is highly collimated,” he said. “It also covers a very broad spectral range, and we make use of most of it. The synchrotron light gives us deep penetration into the patterning material to produce structures with a high aspect ratio. Enhancing the thickness while keeping or reducing the lateral geometries is challenging, but allows for better signal-to-noise ratios in sensors or larger forces in actuators.”
Dr. Achenbach's research is application driven. “This is one of the reasons why the work I'm doing is inherently multi-disciplinary,” he said. “We want to, and have to, co-operate with our colleagues from various scientific backgrounds. Applications drive you to smaller feature sizes, and we try to meet the increasing requirements on the processing side.” This need to collaborate makes the location of SyLMAND at the U of S ideal, putting Dr. Achenbach in close proximity to Colleges such as Engineering, Arts and Science, and Medicine, as well as Innovation Place, where cutting edge research is carried out at a number of telecommunications companies. Besides, other synchrotron researchers at the light source and colleagues from all over Canada are strongly involved.
One key area open to future advances in microstructure development is radio frequency micro-electromechanical systems, or RF MEMS. “RF components are everywhere,” explained Dr. Achenbach, “in every cellphone, in all wireless communications devices, so there's a growing market for microstructures that increase performance but consume less power. That’s what drives the RF MEMS market.” For Dr. Achenbach, there are many opportunities and many technical advantages in applying his microstructure research in this growing area because the technology “fits perfectly with the demands of RF MEMS”.