Review

Technology-driven layer-by-layer assembly of nanofilms

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Science  24 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6233, aaa2491
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa2491

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Thin-film fabrication

The deposition of thin films from multiple materials is essential to a range of materials fabrication processes. Layer-by-layer processes involve the sequential deposition of two or more materials that physically bond together. Richardson et al. review some of the techniques and materials that are used to make thin films, including sequential dip coating, spraying, and electrochemical deposition. Despite the versatility of the methods and the range of materials that can be deposited, the techniques remain mostly confined to the lab because of challenges in industrial scaling. But because there is tremendous scope for fine-tuning the structure and properties of the multilayers, there is interest in broadening the use of these techniques.

Science, this issue 10.1126/science.aaa2491

Structured Abstract

BACKGROUND

Over the past few decades, layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly of thin films has been of considerable interest because of its ability to exert nanometer control over film thickness and its extensive choice of usable materials for coating planar and particulate substrates. The choice of materials allows for responsive and functional thin films to be engineered for various applications, including catalysis, optics, energy, membranes, and biomedicine. Furthermore, there is now a growing realization that the assembly technologies substantially affect the physicochemical properties and, ultimately, the performance of the thin films.

ADVANCES

Recent advances in LbL assembly technologies have explored different driving forces for the assembly process when compared with the diffusion-driven kinetics of classical LbL assembly, where a substrate is immersed in a polymer solution. Examples of different assembly technologies that are now available include: dipping, dewetting, roll-to-roll, centrifugation, creaming, calculated-saturation, immobilization, spinning, high gravity, spraying, atomization, electrodeposition, magnetic assembly, electrocoupling, filtration, microfluidics, and fluidized beds. These technologies can be condensed into five broad categories to which automation or robotics can also be applied—namely, (i) immersive, (ii) spin, (iii) spray, (iv) electromagnetic, and (v) fluidic assembly. Many of these technologies are still new and are actively being explored, with research shedding light on how the deposition technologies and the underlying driving forces affect the formation, properties, and performance of the films, as well as the ease, yield, and scale of the processing.

OUTLOOK

Layer-by-layer assembly has proven markedly powerful over the past two decades and has had a profound interdisciplinary effect on scientific research. Scaling up the process is crucial for furthering real-world applications, and moving forward, an understanding of how to carefully select assembly methods to harness the specific strengths of different technologies has the potential to be transformative. Comprehensive comparisons between the technologies still need to be conducted, especially in regard to coating particulate substrates, where comparisons are limited but crucial for advancing fundamental research and practical applications.

Layer-by-layer assembly of nanofilms for preparing functional materials.

The properties and performance of the resulting films depend on the substrate and layer material choices, as well as the assembly technology.

ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: ALISON E. BURKE AND CASSIO LYNM

Abstract

Multilayer thin films have garnered intense scientific interest due to their potential application in diverse fields such as catalysis, optics, energy, membranes, and biomedicine. Here we review the current technologies for multilayer thin-film deposition using layer-by-layer assembly, and we discuss the different properties and applications arising from the technologies. We highlight five distinct routes of assembly—immersive, spin, spray, electromagnetic, and fluidic assembly—each of which offers material and processing advantages for assembling layer-by-layer films. Each technology encompasses numerous innovations for automating and improving layering, which is important for research and industrial applications. Furthermore, we discuss how judicious choice of the assembly technology enables the engineering of thin films with tailor-made physicochemical properties, such as distinct-layer stratification, controlled roughness, and highly ordered packing.

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