Scalable fabrication of nanopores in membranes via thermal annealing of Au nanoparticles
Nanopores are promising candidates for versatile sensing of micro- and nanomaterials. However, the fabrication of isolated nanopores with optimal dimensions and distributions requires complex processes that involve the use of high-cost equipment. Herein, we report a scalable fabrication of isolated conical nanopores with adjustable dimensions and distribution densities on a Si3N4 membrane via thermal annealing of Au nanoparticles (AuNPs). The AuNP-dispersed solution was dropped and evaporated on the membrane, while the pH value and concentration of AuNPs controlled the zeta potential difference and the distribution density of the attached AuNPs. The optimized thermal annealing directly fabricated conical nanopores at the positions of the AuNPs because of the quasi-liquid state of the AuNPs and their interaction with the Si3N4 lattices. The 50, 100, and 200 nm AuNPs enabled one-step fabrication of 8-, 26-, and 63 nm nanopores, while the inter-distances and distribution densities were controllable over the membrane. The physicochemical analyses elucidated the underlying mechanisms of direct nanopore formation, and the precise adjustment of thermal annealing developed three unique nanopores that differently interacted with the AuNPs: (1) Au-residue-embedded nanopores, (2) isolated nanopores, and (3) nanopores with the remaining Au droplet. The AuNPs-driven fabrication of versatile nanopore membranes enables new applications for sensing and transporting small-scale materials.