Synthesis of nanomaterials

Synthesis approaches
There are two approaches to the synthesis of nanomaterials and the fabrication of nanostructures: top-down and bottom-up. Attrition or milling is a typical top-down method in making nanoparticles, whereas the colloidal dispersion is a good example of bottom-up approach in the synthesis of nanoparticles. Lithography may be considered as a hybrid approach, since the growth of thin films is bottom-up whereas etching is top-down, while nanolithography and nano manipulation are commonly a bottom-up approach.
Both approaches play very important role in nanotechnology. There are advantages and disadvantages in both approaches. Among others, the biggest problem with top-down approach is the imperfection of the surface structure. It is well known that the conventional top-down techniques such as lithography can cause significant crystallographic damage to the processed and additional defects may be introduced even during the etching steps. For example, nanowires made by lithography are not smooth and may contain a lot of impurities and structural defects on surface. Such imperfections would have a significant impact on physical properties and surface chemistry of nanostructures and nanomaterials, since the surface over volume ratio in nanostructures and nanomaterials is very large. The surface imperfection would result in a reduced conductivity due to inelastic surface scattering, which in turn would lead to the generation of excessive heat and thus impose extra challenges to the device design and fabrication. Regardless of the surface imperfections and other defects that top-down approaches may introduce, they will continue to play an important role in the synthesis and fabrication of nanostructures and nanomaterials.
Bottom-up approach
Bottom-up approach is often emphasized in nanotechnology literature, though bottom-up is nothing new in materials synthesis. Typical material synthesis is to build atom by atom on a very large scale, and has been in industrial use for over a century. Examples include the production of salt and nitrate in chemical industry, the growth of single crystals and deposition of films in electronic industry. For most materials, there is no difference in physical properties of materials regardless of the synthesis routes, provided that chemical composition, crystallinity, and microstructure of the material in question are identical. Of course, different synthesis and processing approaches often result in appreciable differences in chemical composition, crystallinity, and microstructure of the material due to kinetic reasons. Consequently, the material exhibits different physical properties.
Bottom-up approach refers to the build-up of a material from the bottom: atom-by-atom, molecule-by-molecule, or cluster-by-cluster. In organic chemistry and/or polymer science, we know polymers are synthesized by connecting individual monomers together. In crystal growth, growth species, such as atoms, ions and molecules, after impinging onto the growth surface, assemble into crystal structure one after another.
Although the bottom-up approach is nothing new, it plays an important role in the fabrication and processing of nanostructures and nanomaterials. There are several reasons for this. When structures fall into a nanometer scale, there is little choice for a top-down approach. All the tools we have possessed are too big to deal with such tiny subjects. Bottom-up approach also promises a better chance to obtain nanostructures with less defects, more homogeneous chemical composition, and better short and long range ordering. This is because the bottom-up approach is driven mainly by the reduction of Gibbs free energy, so that nanostructures and nanomaterials such produced are in a state closer to a thermodynamic equilibrium state. On the contrary, top-down approach most likely introduces internal stress, in addition to surface defects and contaminations.


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