Rajesh Menon, a USTAR researcher at the University of Utah’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has won the 2009 International Commission for Optics (ICO) Prize for “breakthrough achievement in nanolithography.” A branch of nanotechnology, nanolithography helps fabricate tiny structures like semiconductor circuits.
A “young scientist” award, the ICO Prize is given annually to a person who has made a noteworthy contribution to optics, which was published or submitted before nominee has reached the age of 40.
Menon’s research lies at the intersection of optics and nanotechnology, with emphasis on improving the spatial resolution of optics to the nanoscale (one billionth of a meter) and on alternative energy applications.
The smallest feature that can be patterned using light is limited to about half a wavelength. This "far-field diffraction limit" prevents visible light from resolving features below 200 nanometers. Traditionally, scanning-electron-beam lithography (SEBL) has been the most widely used method for beaming electrons in a patterned fashion across a surface to create very small structures for subsequent etching or other purposes. SEBL tends to be slow, expensive, and prone to placement errors. It’s also not compatible with organics and biological material.
A major research goal of Menon's has been to overcome this barrier. ICO recognized Menon for his invention and development of Absorbance Modulation, which overcomes limitations of SEBL and is not limited by diffraction.
Menon proposed the idea of Absorbance Modulation in 2004. Subsequently, he developed a theoretical model, conducted successful preliminary tests in 2006, and demonstrated deep sub-wavelength patterning in 2008. In 2009, he published an article, "Confining light to deep sub-wavelength dimensions to enable optical nanopatterning," in Science.
One application of Menon’s nanopatterning technology may be able to concentrate sunlight and support highly efficient photovoltaic devices to generate electrical power. This project aims to achieve solar-energy-conversion efficiencies via a nanostructured concentrator that not only concentrates sunlight, but also separates and assigns the solar-spectral components to photovoltaic cells with matching bandgaps.
“Preliminary device models have confirmed that the utilization of the entire solar spectrum can enable efficiencies close to the thermodynamic limit,” Menon says. “The technology has the potential to revolutionize solar energy by bringing power-generation costs below 50 cents per watt.”
Menon joined the U of U in August 2009. An affiliate of the Research Laboratory of Electronics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Menon earned his doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT in 2003. Menon also co-founded LumArray Inc., an MIT spin-off company that is commercializing optical-maskless nanolithography. He holds 17 patents, alone or jointly with others. His research interests include nanopatterning, nanofabrication, optical nanoscopy, solar concentrators and plasmonics.
The Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR) is a long-term, state-funded investment to strengthen Utah's "knowledge economy” and generate high-paying jobs. Funded in March 2006 by the State Legislature, USTAR is based on three program areas. The first area involves funding for strategic investments at the University of Utah and Utah State University to recruit world-class researchers. The second area is to build state-of-the-art interdisciplinary facilities at these institutions for the innovation teams. The third program area involves teams that work with companies and entrepreneurs across the State to promote science, innovation, and commercialization activities. For more information, go to www.innovationutah.com or follow http://twitter.com/Innovationutah.