Emerging Technology

DARPA: Atomic-level assembly could lead to new classes of materials

A newly created Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program is looking for ways to assemble nanoscale materials that could eventually lead to revolutionary capabilities.

The Atoms to Product (A2P) program plans to develop new technologies that could assemble atom-sized materials and then integrate those into human-scale systems and materials that could use their properties, according to a DARPA release.

When assembled at the atomic level, certain materials provide extremely useful properties. These include significantly lower melting points, higher specific heats, tunable light absorption, glueless adhesion and quantized electrical characteristics, the agency said.

Incorporating these properties into products is challenging, however. Researchers still have to figure out ways for fabricated products to retain those properties, as well as develop assembly processes for nanoscale items that reach the millimeter scale in size.

“We want to explore new ways of putting incredibly tiny things together, with the goal of developing new miniaturization and assembly methods that would work at scales 100,000 times smaller than current state-of-the-art technology,” John Main, DARPA program manager, said in the release. “If successful, A2P could help enable creation of entirely new classes of materials that exhibit nanoscale properties at all scales. It could lead to the ability to miniaturize materials, processes and devices that can’t be miniaturized with current technology, as well as build three-dimensional products and systems at much smaller sizes.”

The program will cover two technical areas that would enable nanometer scale assembly: the assembly of atoms to microns, and the assembly of microns to millimeters. For both areas, DARPA is looking to make sure that nanoscale properties will be retained as products get larger and to develop assembly processes that can work fast enough to be practical and efficient.

 DARPA plans to hold  two identical Proposers’ Day webinars on Sept. 9 and Sept 11. Advanced registration, which will close on Sept. 5, is required. 

Academic researchers have discovered new techniques to control molecular assembly of nanoparticles that could improve the fabrication of organic photovoltaics and other electronics, reports Nanotechnology Now. Using a strategy of prefabricated units, the new techniques could allow nano manufacturing firms to spend less time searching for materials to create solar cells.

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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