Tag Archives: Zyvex Labs

How to prevent your scanning tunneling microscope probe’s ‘tip crashes’

The microscopes used for nanoscale research were invented roughly 35 years ago and as fabulous as they’ve been, there is a problem (from a February 12, 2018 news item on Nanowerk),

A University of Texas at Dallas graduate student, his advisor and industry collaborators believe they have addressed a long-standing problem troubling scientists and engineers for more than 35 years: How to prevent the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope from crashing into the surface of a material during imaging or lithography.

The researchers have prepared this video describing their work,

For those who like text, there’s more in this February 12, 2018 University of Texas at Dallas news release,

Scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs) operate in an ultra-high vacuum, bringing a fine-tipped probe with a single atom at its apex very close to the surface of a sample. When voltage is applied to the surface, electrons can jump or tunnel across the gap between the tip and sample.

“Think of it as a needle that is very sharp, atomically sharp,” said Farid Tajaddodianfar, a mechanical engineering graduate student in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “The microscope is like a robotic arm, able to reach atoms on the sample surface and manipulate them.”

The problem is, sometimes the tungsten tip crashes into the sample. If it physically touches the sample surface, it may inadvertently rearrange the atoms or create a “crater,” which could damage the sample. Such a “tip crash” often forces operators to replace the tip many times, forfeiting valuable time.

Dr. John Randall is an adjunct professor at UT Dallas and president of Zyvex Labs, a Richardson, Texas-based nanotechnology company specializing in developing tools and products that fabricate structures atom by atom. Zyvex reached out to Dr. Reza Moheimani, a professor of mechanical engineering, to help address STMs’ tip crash problem. Moheimani’s endowed chair was a gift from Zyvex founder James Von Ehr MS’81, who was honored as a distinguished UTD alumnus in 2004.

“What they’re trying to do is help bring atomically precise manufacturing into reality,” said Randall, who co-authored the article with Tajaddodianfar, Moheimani and Zyvex Labs’ James Owen. “This is considered the future of nanotechnology, and it is extremely important work.”

Randall said such precise manufacturing will lead to a host of innovations.

“By building structures atom by atom, you’re able to create new, extraordinary materials,” said Randall, who is co-chair of the Jonsson School’s Industry Engagement Committee. “We can remove impurities and make materials stronger and more heat resistant. We can build quantum computers. It could radically lower costs and expand capabilities in medicine and other areas. For example, if we can better understand DNA at an atomic and molecular level, that will help us fine-tune and tailor health care according to patients’ needs. The possibilities are endless.”

In addition, Moheimani, a control engineer and expert in nanotechnology, said scientists are attempting to build transistors and quantum computers from a single atom using this technology.

“There’s an international race to build machines, devices and 3-D equipment from the atom up,” said Moheimani, the James Von Ehr Distinguished Chair in Science and Technology.

‘It’s a Big, Big Problem’

Randall said Zyvex Labs has spent a lot of time and money trying to understand what happens to the tips when they crash.

“It’s a big, big problem,” Randall said. “If you can’t protect the tip, you’re not going to build anything. You’re wasting your time.”

Tajaddodianfar and Moheimani said the issue is the controller.

“There’s a feedback controller in the STM that measures the current and moves the needle up and down,” Moheimani said. “You’re moving from one atom to another, across an uneven surface. It is not flat. Because of that, the distance between the sample and tip changes, as does the current between them. While the controller tries to move the tip up and down to maintain the current, it does not always respond well, nor does it regulate the tip correctly. The resulting movement of the tip is often unstable.”

It’s the feedback controller that fails to protect the tip from crashing into the surface, Tajaddodianfar said.

“When the electronic properties are variable across the sample surface, the tip is more prone to crash under conventional control systems,” he said. “It’s meant to be really, really sharp. But when the tip crashes into the sample, it breaks, curls backward and flattens.

“Once the tip crashes into the surface, forget it. Everything changes.”

The Solution

According to Randall, Tajaddodianfar took logical steps for creating the solution.

“The brilliance of Tajaddodianfar is that he looked at the problem and understood the physics of the tunneling between the tip and the surface, that there is a small electronic barrier that controls the rate of tunneling,” Randall said. “He figured out a way of measuring that local barrier height and adjusting the gain on the control system that demonstrably keeps the tip out of trouble. Without it, the tip just bumps along, crashing into the surface. Now, it adjusts to the control parameters on the fly.”

Moheimani said the group hopes to change their trajectory when it comes to building new devices.

“That’s the next thing for us. We set out to find the source of this problem, and we did that. And, we’ve come up with a solution. It’s like everything else in science: Time will tell how impactful our work will be,” Moheimani said. “But I think we have solved the big problem.”

Randall said Tajaddodianfar’s algorithm has been integrated with its system’s software but is not yet available to customers. The research was made possible by funding from the Army Research Office and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

On the effect of local barrier height in scanning tunneling microscopy: Measurement methods and control implications by Farid Tajaddodianfar, S. O. Reza Moheimani, James Owen, and John N. Randall. Review of Scientific Instruments 89, 013701 (2018); https://doi.org/10.1063/1.5003851 Published Online: January 2018

This paper is behind a paywall.

DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) ‘Atoms to Product’ program launched

It took over a year after announcing the ‘Atoms to Product’ program in 2014 for DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to select 10 proponents for three projects. Before moving onto the latest announcement, here’s a description of the ‘Atoms to Product’ program from its Aug. 27, 2014 announcement on Nanowerk,

Many common materials exhibit different and potentially useful characteristics when fabricated at extremely small scales—that is, at dimensions near the size of atoms, or a few ten-billionths of a meter. These “atomic scale” or “nanoscale” properties include quantized electrical characteristics, glueless adhesion, rapid temperature changes, and tunable light absorption and scattering that, if available in human-scale products and systems, could offer potentially revolutionary defense and commercial capabilities. Two as-yet insurmountable technical challenges, however, stand in the way: Lack of knowledge of how to retain nanoscale properties in materials at larger scales, and lack of assembly capabilities for items between nanoscale and 100 microns—slightly wider than a human hair.

DARPA has created the Atoms to Product (A2P) program to help overcome these challenges. The program seeks to develop enhanced technologies for assembling atomic-scale pieces. It also seeks to integrate these components into materials and systems from nanoscale up to product scale in ways that preserve and exploit distinctive nanoscale properties.

DARPA’s Atoms to Product (A2P) program seeks to develop enhanced technologies for assembling nanoscale items, and integrating these components into materials and systems from nanoscale up to product scale in ways that preserve and exploit distinctive nanoscale properties.

A Dec. 29, 2015 news item on Nanowerk features the latest about the project,

DARPA recently selected 10 performers to tackle this challenge: Zyvex Labs, Richardson, Texas; SRI, Menlo Park, California; Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts; University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana; HRL Laboratories, Malibu, California; PARC, Palo Alto, California; Embody, Norfolk, Virginia; Voxtel, Beaverton, Oregon; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Draper Laboratory, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A Dec. 29, 2015 DARPA news release, which originated the news item, offers more information and an image illustrating the type of advances already made by one of the successful proponents,

DARPA recently launched its Atoms to Product (A2P) program, with the goal of developing technologies and processes to assemble nanometer-scale pieces—whose dimensions are near the size of atoms—into systems, components, or materials that are at least millimeter-scale in size. At the heart of that goal was a frustrating reality: Many common materials, when fabricated at nanometer-scale, exhibit unique and attractive “atomic-scale” behaviors including quantized current-voltage behavior, dramatically lower melting points and significantly higher specific heats—but they tend to lose these potentially beneficial traits when they are manufactured at larger “product-scale” dimensions, typically on the order of a few centimeters, for integration into devices and systems.

“The ability to assemble atomic-scale pieces into practical components and products is the key to unlocking the full potential of micromachines,” said John Main, DARPA program manager. “The DARPA Atoms to Product Program aims to bring the benefits of microelectronic-style miniaturization to systems and products that combine mechanical, electrical, and chemical processes.”

The program calls for closing the assembly gap in two steps: From atoms to microns and from microns to millimeters. Performers are tasked with addressing one or both of these steps and have been assigned to one of three working groups, each with a distinct focus area.


Image caption: Microscopic tools such as this nanoscale “atom writer” can be used to fabricate minuscule light-manipulating structures on surfaces. DARPA has selected 10 performers for its Atoms to Product (A2P) program whose goal is to develop technologies and processes to assemble nanometer-scale pieces—whose dimensions are near the size of atoms—into systems, components, or materials that are at least millimeter-scale in size. (Image credit: Boston University)

Here’s more about the projects and the performers (proponents) from the A2P performers page on the DARPA website,

Nanometer to Millimeter in a Single System – Embody, Draper and Voxtel

Current methods to treat ligament injuries in warfighters [also known as, soldiers]—which account for a significant portion of reported injuries—often fail to restore pre-injury performance, due to surgical complexities and an inadequate supply of donor tissue. Embody is developing reinforced collagen nanofibers that mimic natural ligaments and replicate the biological and biomechanical properties of native tissue. Embody aims to create a new standard of care and restore pre-injury performance for warfighters and sports injury patients at a 50% reduction compared to current costs.

Radio Frequency (RF) systems (e.g., cell phones, GPS) have performance limits due to alternating current loss. In lower frequency power systems this is addressed by braiding the wires, but this is not currently possibly in cell phones due to an inability to manufacture sufficiently small braided wires. Draper is developing submicron wires that can be braided using DNA self-assembly methods. If successful, portable RF systems will be more power efficient and able to send 10 times more information in a given channel.

For seamless control of structures, physics and surface chemistry—from the atomic-level to the meter-level—Voxtel Inc. and partner Oregon State University are developing an efficient, high-rate, fluid-based manufacturing process designed to imitate nature’s ability to manufacture complex multimaterial products across scales. Historically, challenges relating to the cost of atomic-level control, production speed, and printing capability have been effectively insurmountable. This team’s new process will combine synthesis and delivery of materials into a massively parallel inkjet operation that draws from nature to achieve a DNA-like mediated assembly. The goal is to assemble complex, 3-D multimaterial mixed organic and inorganic products quickly and cost-effectively—directly from atoms.

Optical Metamaterial Assembly – Boston University, University of Notre Dame, HRL and PARC.

Nanoscale devices have demonstrated nearly unlimited power and functionality, but there hasn’t been a general- purpose, high-volume, low-cost method for building them. Boston University is developing an atomic calligraphy technique that can spray paint atoms with nanometer precision to build tunable optical metamaterials for the photonic battlefield. If successful, this capability could enhance the survivability of a wide range of military platforms, providing advanced camouflage and other optical illusions in the visual range much as stealth technology has enabled in the radar range.

The University of Notre Dame is developing massively parallel nanomanufacturing strategies to overcome the requirement today that most optical metamaterials must be fabricated in “one-off” operations. The Notre Dame project aims to design and build optical metamaterials that can be reconfigured to rapidly provide on-demand, customized optical capabilities. The aim is to use holographic traps to produce optical “tiles” that can be assembled into a myriad of functional forms and further customized by single-atom electrochemistry. Integrating these materials on surfaces and within devices could provide both warfighters and platforms with transformational survivability.

HRL Laboratories is working on a fast, scalable and material-agnostic process for improving infrared (IR) reflectivity of materials. Current IR-reflective materials have limited use, because reflectivity is highly dependent on the specific angle at which light hits the material. HRL is developing a technique for allowing tailorable infrared reflectivity across a variety of materials. If successful, the process will enable manufacturable materials with up to 98% IR reflectivity at all incident angles.

PARC is working on building the first digital MicroAssembly Printer, where the “inks” are micrometer-size particles and the “image” outputs are centimeter-scale and larger assemblies. The goal is to print smart materials with the throughput and cost of laser printers, but with the precision and functionality of nanotechnology. If successful, the printer would enable the short-run production of large, engineered, customized microstructures, such as metamaterials with unique responses for secure communications, surveillance and electronic warfare.

Flexible, General Purpose Assembly – Zyvex, SRI, and Harvard.

Zyvex aims to create nano-functional micron-scale devices using customizable and scalable manufacturing that is top-down and atomically precise. These high-performance electronic, optical, and nano-mechanical components would be assembled by SRI micro-robots into fully-functional devices and sub-systems such as ultra-sensitive sensors for threat detection, quantum communication devices, and atomic clocks the size of a grain of sand.

SRI’s Levitated Microfactories will seek to combine the precision of MEMS [micro-electromechanical systems] flexures with the versatility and range of pick-and-place robots and the scalability of swarms [an idea Michael Crichton used in his 2002 novel Prey to induce horror] to assemble and electrically connect micron and millimeter components to build stronger materials, faster electronics, and better sensors.

Many high-impact, minimally invasive surgical techniques are currently performed only by elite surgeons due to the lack of tactile feedback at such small scales relative to what is experienced during conventional surgical procedures. Harvard is developing a new manufacturing paradigm for millimeter-scale surgical tools using low-cost 2D layer-by-layer processes and assembly by folding, resulting in arbitrarily complex meso-scale 3D devices. The goal is for these novel tools to restore the necessary tactile feedback and thereby nurture a new degree of dexterity to perform otherwise demanding micro- and minimally invasive surgeries, and thus expand the availability of life-saving procedures.


‘Sidebar’ is my way of indicating these comments have little to do with the matter at hand but could be interesting factoids for you.

First, Zyvex Labs was last mentioned here in a Sept. 10, 2014 posting titled: OCSiAL will not be acquiring Zyvex. Notice that this  announcement was made shortly after DARPA’s A2P program was announced and that OCSiAL is one of RUSNANO’s (a Russian funding agency focused on nanotechnology) portfolio companies (see my Oct. 23, 2015 posting for more).

HRL Laboratories, mentioned here in an April 19, 2012 posting mostly concerned with memristors (nanoscale devices that mimic neural or synaptic plasticity), has its roots in Howard Hughes’s research laboratories as noted in the posting. In 2012, HRL was involved in another DARPA project, SyNAPSE.

Finally and minimally, PARC also known as, Xerox PARC, was made famous by Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak when they set up their own company (Apple) basing their products on innovations that PARC had rejected. There are other versions of the story and one by Malcolm Gladwell for the New Yorker May 16, 2011 issue which presents a more complicated and, at times, contradictory version of that particular ‘origins’ story.

The world’s largest nanotechnology business: OCSiAl and its Zyvex acquisition

I have taken the claim of being the world’s largest nanotechnology business at face value as this is not my area of expertise but there is at least one company specializing in the analysis of nanotechnology-based business which seems to support the company’s contention.

In any event, the acquisition by OCSiAl of Zyvex Technologies has resulted in the world’s largest nanotechnology business according to a June 19, 2014 news item on cemag.us,

OCSiAl, a technology manufacturer for the mass industrial production of graphene tubes, announces that it has acquired Zyvex Technologies, making the combined organization the largest nanotechnology company in the world. The partnership between OCSiAl and Zyvex Technologies will combine large scale manufacturing capabilities with commercialization expertise.

A June 16, 2014 Zyvex Technologies news release (scroll down the page and hopefully it will still be there), which originated the news item, describes the deal and proponents’ hopes and dreams in further detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The unprecedented partnership between OCSiAl and Zyvex Technologies will combine large scale manufacturing capabilities with commercialization expertise – unleashing limitless potential for enhanced consumer products across the globe.

OCSiAl is known for developing the world’s largest low cost and scalable production of graphene tubes under the brand name TUBALL®, while Zyvex Technologies is the acknowledged leader in the field of carbon nanomaterial applications. The latter’s nanotechnology-based products are already integrated into a diverse number of products, ranging from Easton sporting goods to Airbus next generation materials research. This acquisition will enable the mass availability of TUBALL® graphene tubes and provide endless advantages to customers across industries.

“From improved quality and durability of consumer goods to premier, high level projects, the combination of OCSiAl’s manufacturing capabilities and the scale and expertise of each company’s respective market, we are creating a vertically integrated organization that serves customers better with readily available nanotech products,” said Yuri Koropachinsky, President of OCSiAl. “Zyvex Technologies has built a tremendous team that we are excited to welcome into the OCSiAl family – and together, we will usher in a new age of technology for businesses and consumers alike.”

Graphene, a single atom thick sheet of carbon – proclaimed as the ‘wonder material of the 21st century’ by the American Chemical Society – makes batteries more powerful and long-lasting, construction materials lighter, polymers stronger, and improves the electrical and thermal conductivity of composites. In contrast with other technologies, many of its applications do not require changes in currently used equipment or processes. The integration of OCSiAl’s graphene tubes with Zyvex Technologies’ proven operations will allow for the creation of products with properties that significantly surpass what is currently available on the market.

“This is a landmark deal which will open the doors for further development and penetration of nanotechnology through a combination of technology and commercial excellence,” said Dr. Sanjay Mazumdar, CEO of the market research organization, Lucintel. “Businesses must consider the advantages that can be gained through the early adoption of new materials technology, otherwise they’ll watch on the sidelines as their competitors grow.”

Zyvex Technologies will continue to operate with its own distinct brand identity and product line while contributing to the growth of OCSiAl. The combined team will have a presence on six continents and will have 160 dedicated business and R&D staff who have the potential to dramatically change not only the market for carbon nanomaterials but a number of industries, creating new opportunities for carbon enhanced products. Founder and current chairman, Jim Von Ehr, will also join the OCSiAl Board of Directors.

“We are thrilled to join OCSiAl,” said Lance Criscuolo, President of Zyvex Technologies. “Zyvex was the first recognized nanomaterials company in the United States. Now with support from OCSiAl, Zyvex will be in an even better position to bring the potential of nanotechnology into powerful commercial reality.”

There is a June 17, 2014 posting about the deal by Nanalyze but before getting to the analysis, here’s some information* from the About Nanalyze page,

Nanalyze provides objective information about companies involved in disruptive technologies so that investors can make informed investment decisions.

Founded in 2003, Nanalyze started as a forum where investors could share information on companies involved in the nanotechnology space. Over time Nanalyze grew to over 3000 registered users who contributed to over 1900 different topics. In 2004 when nanotechnology became an emerging topic among investors,  Nanalyze was key in distributing objective information that helped differentiate real nanotechnology companies from “pump and dump” OTC stocks that attempted to capitalize on the hype surrounding nanotechnology.

10 years later,  Nanalyze has moved from a forum format to a publishing format so that our readers can better access information that will help them make more informed investment decisions. We have also expanded outside of just Nanotechnology to include additional disruptive technologies such as 3D Printing, Emerging Electronics,  Live Sciences, and Renewable Energy.

The June 17, 2014 Nanalyze posting provides historical context (Note: Links have been removed),

When George W. Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act in 2003, it wasn’t too long after that before investors began driving up the price of any stock that contained any variation of the word nanotechnology. In a previous article, we highlighted 6 companies that used the hype surrounding nanotechnology to burn through vast amounts of money before leaving investors holding the proverbial bag. However, not all nanotechnology companies that were around prior to 2004 have perished. One company that claims to be the oldest nanotechnology company around, Zyvex Technologies, was just acquired yesterday by OCSiAl in what has been described as the creation of the world’s largest nanotechnology company.

The ins and outs of the Zyvex Technologies story are fascinating and I encourage you to read the whole posting. Here’s the conclusion (from the June 17, 2014 posting),

Zyvex seems to be following suit with past nanomaterial companies that target niche applications across multiple industries in hopes of capturing as much opportunity as quickly as possible. For some firms with truly innovative materials technology, an “Intel inside” approach may work where a licensing model is used to receive royalties off the product development efforts of others. For other firms, trying to target too many industry verticals leads to a lack focus and none of them manage to capture meaningful revenues. In this case Zyvex’s technology and products must have shown some promise for OCSiAl to purchase them though nothing is disclosed about the actual purchase price. Zyvex appears to have had around 13 employees when acquired bringing the total employees for the combined company to 160.

Nanalyze is hoping to followup in the future with a posting about OCSiAl, “a company that unveiled in November 2013 the world’s largest industrial plant for the synthesis of single walled carbon nanotubes (up to 10 tons per year)” (from the Nanalyze posting). For anyone who wants to ensure they see this upcoming post, I advise subscribing to the Nanalyze RSS.

Here’s my final bit about Zyvex Technologies. It is one of three entities according to the Zyvex website. Two of the three entities are now owned by other parties, Zyvex Technologies by OCSiAl and Zyvex Instruments by DCG Systems, presumably leaving Zyvex Labs to stand alone.

As for OCSiAl, there’s this on their LinkedIn profile,

OCSiAl is an international technology firm with operations in USA, UK, Germany, Russia, South Korea and headquarters in Luxembourg.[emphasis mine]

You can find the OCSiAl website (English language) here and their YouTube Channel here.

ETA June 26, 2014: As they promised, Nanalyze has published a June 25, 2014 posting with an analysis of OCSiAl.

* ‘information’ was added to the sentence on Sept. 10, 2014