Why the world is finally ready for Atomically Precise Manufacturing

John Randall

Why has the acceptance of Atomically Precise Manufacturing taken so long? Despite evidence for the utility of APM, the resources dedicated to it are incredibly small. However, things are changing:

– Solid state quantum technology needs APM

Semiconductor lithography does not work well with quantum technology, it introduces extremely large errors related to tunneling rates. Newer Hydrogen Depassivation Lithography has much greater accuracy and lower energy level variation, but we are still not there yet.

– International competition of quantum technology

The US only produces about 12% of the worlds integrated circuits. There is more funding now than ever before to improve technological capacity of the US and put it on par with other countries.

– The looming crisis in technology advancement

Moore’s law is running up against a wall. We are running out of room at the bottom and will need to look elsewhere than miniaturization to improve technology.

John proposes a digital approach to manufacturing to achieve APM, first at the nano scale then scaling up. Going digital means mapping chemical bonds to a spatial address grid to control molecular structure. Litho, deposition, etching, CMP all treat matter as if it infinitely divisible (analog methods). Importantly, digital fabrication will allow for error checking and greater tolerance.

We can borrow processes from digital IT. When sending packets over a noisy connection, validation bits are used to make sure the incoming information is correct. There are many examples of digital atomic precision among Zyvex and other organizations.

While moore’s law is running out, it can be reflected at atomic scale to represent atomically precise manufacturing at different scales. As we run through atoms to nano, nano to micro, and micro to millimeter, manufacturing will climb up logarithmically through size scales in a similar manner as atomic precision has gotten smaller.

Zyvex is focusing on hydrogen depassivation lithography, which is much more precise than conventional E-beam lithography. Using a digital approach, HDL removes specific hydrogen atoms which allows them to deposit layers of material with atomic level precision. Zyvex plans to scale up using MEMS Scanning Tunneling Microscopy.


  • Zyvex is working on having two MEMS STM landing on the same sample
  • Zyvex needs more surface chemists to get involved in nanotechnology

Ready for Atomically Precise Manufacturing & Electron Microscopy

Sergei Kalinin

Dr. Sergei Kalinin earned his MS in materials science from Moscow State University in 1998 and his PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2002. He joined ORNL as a Eugene P. Wigner Fellow in 2002. Dr. Kalinin’s career at ORNL is highlighted by his groundbreaking contributions to ORNL’s efforts to address US Department of Energy (DOE) Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program objectives, first as a staff member in the Condensed Matter Sciences Division, then as a staff member at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS), and in his capacities as theme leader for Electronic and Ionic Functionalities at CNMS (2007–2016) and as director of ORNL’s Institute for Functional Imaging of Materials (IFIM, 2014–2019). Dr. Kalinin is currently Data NanoAnalytics Group Leader at CNMS.


Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopes (STEM) work by passing electrons through a sample and on to a detector.  Like a flashlight shining against a hand, the shadow produced by the electron beam can be used to determine the shape of the sample. 


Over the last 10 years there has been a revolution in the field of electron microscopy based on techniques such as diffraction from subatomic volumes, beams with orbital momentum, and deep learning advancements.  Deep learning can be used for drift correction, denoising, data processing, and feature finding.


One interesting phenomena is that certain materials degrade when kept under the electron beam of a microscope, such as materials that have sulfur atoms.  This damage process can be used as a production process to induce materials to self assemble by selectively removing atoms from a sample material.  Nanoscale objects can be sculpted by using STEM and SPM together, and this process can be automated.  One of the first experiments is to convert amorphous silicon to crystalline silicon using this process.


Altering this process allows Sergei to place single silicon atoms in a graphene lattice.  It may be possible to build molecules with this process.  Sergei has also been looking at how plasmonic responses change.


  • What are local atomic functionalities?
  • How do we direct atoms to do what we want and make what we need?