Atomic Engineering /əˈtämik ˌenjəˈniriNG/


The idea of controlling atoms is not new. In late 1980s, scientists in the field of scanning tunneling microscope (STM) started controlling the position of atoms adsorbed on the surface of metal. The famous "IBM" characters, quantum corral, and a short movie, "a boy kicking soccer", are all created by this method. However, there are two limiting factors constraining this technique from being utilized in a broader way: (1) The atomic structure created has to be stabilized at ultra-low temperature (usually at 4 Kelvin, which is -269 °C). This requires a vacuum chamber to keep the system at such low temperature without getting icy frost covering the surface, so it is extremely hard to bring the atomic structure out of the chamber. (2) It uses a metal tip to control (nudge, drag) the atoms, which is rather slow in forming atomic pattern (just imagine the sluggishness when using only one finger to type on a keyboard, or using a stylus to type the keyboard on your smart phone).

To solve these problems, performing atom control at room temperature using electron beam has just emerged. The reason of using electron beam is illustrated in the following diagram.

This field was thrived from controlling dopant atoms in 2D materials, like graphene or transitional metal dichalcogenides. The image generated by electron microscopes are basically the projection of atomic structure along the z axis. Two-dimensional materials facilitates parsing atomic structures from electron microscope images due to the lack of z dimension. In other words, what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) when looking at one-atom thick materials in electron microscope. 

2D Atomic Engineering consists of three main parts:

Pioneers related to Atomic Engineering (Definitely not a complete list. Please contact me just in case I miss you here):

Atom control using electron microscope

The University of Vienna group (an interesting atom manipulation game can be played here)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory group

University of Chinese Academy of Sciences group

UC Berkeley

2D materials doping

University of Chicago group

Sungkyunkwan Univeristy group

Penn State group

MIT group

Detecting Single-atom device

TU Delft

UC Berkeley

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