Nanoporous silicon nitride membranes fabricated from porous nanocrystalline silicon templates
The extraordinary permeability and manufacturability of ultrathin silicon-based membranes are enabling devices with improved performance and smaller sizes in such important areas as molecular filtration and sensing, cell culture, electroosmotic pumping, and hemodialysis. Because of the robust chemical and mechanical properties of silicon nitride (SiN), several laboratories have developed techniques for patterning nanopores in SiN using reactive ion etching (RIE) through a template structure. These methods however, have failed to produce pores small enough for ultrafiltration (<100 nm) in SiN and involve templates that are prone to microporous defects. Here we present a facile, wafer-scale method to produce nanoporous silicon nitride (NPN) membranes using porous nanocrystalline silicon (pnc-Si) as a self-assembling, defect free, RIE masking layer. By modifying the mask layer morphology and the RIE etch conditions, the pore sizes of NPN can be adjusted between 40 nm and 80 nm with porosities reaching 40%. The resulting NPN membranes exhibit higher burst pressures than pnc-Si membranes while having 5× greater permeability. NPN membranes also demonstrate the capacity for high resolution separations (<10 nm) seen previously with pnc-Si membranes. We further demonstrate that human endothelial cells can be grown on NPN membranes, verifying the biocompatibility of NPN and demonstrating the potential of this material for cell culture applications.