Engineer etches microscopic U of U medallion

Appeared on September 14th, 2010. Images & text reprinted with permission. Article available here.

SALT LAKE CITY -- A University of Utah fan expressed his Ute pride in a tiny way. An engineer created a golden University of Utah logo that is smaller than the width of an average human hair at less than three-one-thousandths of an inch.

The medallion is magnified 3,000 times in the image at the bottom right. The medallion depicts the university’s block U symbol and the founding date, with the background of the mountains and rays of sunlight. The gold-covered parts of the medallion appear white, while the silicon background is dark. The medallion was made using a process called electron-beam lithography. The etching was done on a silicon base using a thin beam of electrons from one of two electron microscopes bought by the university in 2008. To the naked eye it is a barely discernible speck. Under a conventional light microscope, it looks like a fuzzy circle. Its full detail is revealed only by a scanning electron microscope -- the same device that was used to create it. The medallion was created by Randy Polson, a senior optical engineer at the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, as part of his job adjusting the microscope for use by researchers and private businesses. “People usually do things like lines and rectangles,” Polson said. “The software that came with the microscope included some stick-figure demos. I thought, ‘Hey, I can do better than a stick figure.’” The process of creating the medallion took about an hour, but the bulk of the project consisted of adjusting and refining the microscope settings, which took months.