While the rest of the world is predicting big things for additive manufacturing, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are thinking.

Professor Andrei Fedorov and his research team have won a $660,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to use an additive manufacturing process to create nanoscale structures with a variety of materials.

They are hoping to create structures between 10 and a 100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Known as focused electron beam induced deposition (FEBID), the technique delivers a tightly-focused beam of high energy electrons and an energetic jet of thermally excited precursor gases – both confined to the same spot on a substrate. Secondary electrons generated when the electron beam strikes the substrate cause decomposition of the precursor molecules, forming nanoscale 3D structures whose size, shape and location can be precisely controlled.

This gas-jet assisted FEBID technique allows fabrication of high-purity nanoscale structures using a wide range of materials.

The technique could be used to produce nano-electromechanical sensors and actuators.

Complex 3-D nanostructures fabricated using Fedorov's technique"By providing truly nanoscale control of geometries, it will impact a broad range of applications in nanoelectronics and biosensing," Fedorov said.

Fedorov and his team will use the money to better understand and manipulate the process.

Overall, about two dozen materials have been successfully deposited using FEBID on different substrates, including semiconductors, dielectrics, metals and even plastics. The researchers also plan to develop nanostructures containing more than one material, allowing them to create unique properties not available in each individual material.

"We will be growing structures ranging in size from tens to hundreds of nanometers," Fedorov said. "This means we will not only have to confine electrons to very small regions, but we will also need to confine the precursor molecules to these same domains."