The elegant complexity of biological materials represents the achievement of structural order over many length scales, with the full structure developed from the "nested levels of structural hierarchy" (Aksay et al. 1992), in which self-assembled organic materials can form templates or scaffolding for inorganic components. These notions of a multilevel material structure with strong interactions among levels and an interplay of perfection and imperfection forming the final material was discussed earlier by Cyril Stanley Smith (1981). Along with characteristic length scales, there are characteristic relaxation times of the material, bringing in the consideration of the temporal stability of the structured materials (Zener 1948).

A more detailed discussion of the role of biological materials as both paradigm and tool for the fabrication of nanostructured materials is given in Chapter 7 of this report. It is interesting how many of the synthesis and assembly approaches seek out and adapt two key features of biogenic fabrication: that of "self-assembly," and the use of natural nanoscaled templates.

Self-Assembly as a Deliberate Strategy

"Self-assembly" is a term that by now figures prominently in the literature of nanostructured materials and nanofabrication. The term therefore carries a variety of implicit or explicit meanings, and we cite the definition given by Kuhn and Ulman: "Self-assembly is a process in which supermolecular hierarchical organization is established in a complex system of interlocking components." The mechanisms that produce the hierarchical organization are determined by competing molecular interactions (e.g., interactions between hydrophobic versus hydrophilic components, van der Waals, Coulombic, or hydrogen bonding), resulting in particular microphase separation or surface segregation of the component materials. Thus, the use of a hierarchy of bond strengths and/or chemical specificity can produce a hierarchy of lengths in the final nanostructured material (Muthukumar et al. 1998; Stupp and Braun 1998).

As one example of such self-assembled or self-organized materials, McGehee et al. (1994) have mixed silica precursors with surfactants that have self-ordered to form various surfactant-water liquid crystals, producing various structures built from walls of amorphous silica, organized about a repetitive arrangement of pores up to a hundred angstroms in diameter. A range of such structures is shown in Figure 2.3. In the "natural" formation of inorganic nanostructures, the addition of organic molecules can strongly influence the resulting structure of inorganic components. Such strategies have been adopted in synthetic formation of nanostructures, such as in the formation of networks of gold clusters (Andres et al. 1998).

Gold clusters 3.7 nm in diameter, formed in the vapor phase, are encapsulated in organic surfactants, such as dodecanethiol, forming a colloidal suspension. The surfactants prevent the agglomeration of the gold clusters. Addition of small amount of dithiol precipitates out a 3-D cluster network, which can in turn be deposited onto another solid substrate. Figure 2.4 shows a transmission electron microscope (TEM) image of a cluster array spin-cast onto MoS2.

The methodology of self-assembly has even been extended to physical vapor deposition processes where it would seem more difficult to control the nucleation and growth of three-dimensional nanostructures. Utilizing the strain inherent in the epitaxial growth of lattice-mismatched materials, and the expected strain-induced transition from two-dimensional (layered) to three-dimensional (islanded) growth, together with careful monitoring of the growth process through RHEED analysis, researchers have been able to form arrays of semiconductor quantum dots, ~ 200-300 Å in diameter, ~ 1011 cm-2 in density, and with a size variation of about 7% (Leonard et al. 1993). An example of such "self-assembled" semiconductor quantum dots is shown in Figure 2.5. The achievement of arrays of several billions of quantum dots of these dimensions with such a size variation is beyond the capability of standard high resolution lithographic and pattern transfer processes. Moreover, the controlled formation of critical surfaces and interfaces without the intercession of ion-assisted processing that can introduce potential defects into the materials has produced a rich source of optically and electronically efficient quantum structures. A number of researchers have already incorporated such self-assembled dots into laser structures (Bimberg et al. 1998).

Chemical specificity may provide the most robust means of ensuring control of size and placement of nanostructured building blocks, and recent work in the synthesis of compound semiconductor quantum dots from chemical precursors have provided even tighter distributions of size variation (5%) than those shown in the strain-induced self-assembled dots (Katari et al. 1994; Murray et al. 1993). The size-dependent and energy-selective optical absorption properties of such chemically synthesized quantum dots are shown in Figure 2.6.


Figure 2.3
TEM images of (a) the lamellar morphology, (b) the cubic phase with Ia3d symmetry viewed along its [111] zone axis, and (c) the hexagonal phase viewed along its [001] zone axis of thesilica/surfactant nanostructured composites by co-assembly (McGehee et al. 1994) (bars = 30 nm).

Figure 2.4
TEM image of unlinked cluster array of 3.7 nm Au clusters encapsulated by dodecanethiol (Andres et al. 1998).

Figure 2.5.
Array of InAs quantum dot structures grown on GaAs substrates (Mirin et al. 1996).

Figure 2.6.
Variation of optical transparency with diameter of chemically synthesized CdSe nanocrystals (Alivisatos 1996).

Natural Templates or "Scaffolds"

Biogenic systems employ natural templates or scaffolding in the construction of nanoscaled materials, where the templates and scaffolding can help set the proper, critical dimensions that are characteristic of the final material. The templates can be formed "artificially," through the use of lithographically defined patterning and processing of the substrate material in order to achieve selective nucleation and growth of the nanostructured materials. However, there are also a host of "natural" templating materials that researchers can avail themselves of. The zeolites have for a long time been utilized as the basis of high surface area materials that enable catalysis. Recent work has taken these natural cage structures and formed large cage structures with varying pore sizes (Estermann et al. 1991; Ying and Sun 1997; Bu et al. 1998). When zeolite cages are "loaded" with various materials, the controlled proximity enforced by the cage structure can result in various magnetically active or nonlinear optical materials. More recently, the C-based fullerenes and C-nanotubes have provided a tremendously rich basis for nanostructure research; the impact of such materials is further described in Chapters 4 and 5. The by now "easy" formation of such structures and ready availability of such materials provide a rich source of nanostructures with nearly immediate applications for electronic devices, storage, and enhancement of structural materials. Further, these materials can serve as the nanostructured precursors of nanostructure synthesis approaches (such as the starting material for cluster or aerosol deposition), or can provide an avenue for the synthesis of templates of varying sizes. Such templates can be electronically "doped" and filled with other materials. Recent work reported the synthesis of "nanorods" of GaN through confined reactions in carbon nanotubes (Han et al. 1998).

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian