Journal article

Direct-write nanoscale printing of nanogranular tunnelling strain sensors for sub-micrometre cantilevers

The sensitivity and detection speed of cantilever-based mechanical sensors increases drastically through size reduction. The need for such increased performance for high-speed nanocharacterization and bio-sensing, drives their sub-micrometre miniaturization in a variety of research fields. However, existing detection methods of the cantilever motion do not scale down easily, prohibiting further increase in the sensitivity and detection speed. Here we report a nanomechanical sensor readout based on electron co-tunnelling through a nano-granular metal. The sensors can be deposited with lateral dimensions down to tens of nm, allowing the readout of nanoscale cantilevers without constraints on their size, geometry or material. By modifying the inter-granular tunnel-coupling strength, the sensors' conductivity can be tuned by up to four orders of magnitude, to optimize their performance. We show that the nanoscale printed sensors are functional on 500 nm wide cantilevers and that their sensitivity is suited even for demanding applications such as atomic force microscopy.


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