Background: Focused electron beam induced deposition (FEBID) is a direct-writing technique with nanometer resolution, which has received strongly increasing attention within the last decade. In FEBID a precursor previously adsorbed on a substrate surface is dissociated in the focus of an electron beam. After 20 years of continuous development FEBID has reached a stage at which this technique is now particularly attractive for several areas in both, basic and applied research. The present topical review addresses selected examples that highlight this development in the areas of charge-transport regimes in nanogranular metals close to an insulator-to-metal transition, the use of these materials for strain- and magnetic-field sensing, and the prospect of extending FEBID to multicomponent systems, such as binary alloys and intermetallic compounds with cooperative ground states.
Results: After a brief introduction to the technique, recent work concerning FEBID of Pt–Si alloys and (hard-magnetic) Co–Pt intermetallic compounds on the nanometer scale is reviewed. The growth process in the presence of two precursors, whose flux is independently controlled, is analyzed within a continuum model of FEBID that employs rate equations. Predictions are made for the tunability of the composition of the Co–Pt system by simply changing the dwell time of the electron beam during the writing process. The charge-transport regimes of nanogranular metals are reviewed next with a focus on recent theoretical advancements in the field. As a case study the transport properties of Pt–C nanogranular FEBID structures are discussed. It is shown that by means of a post-growth electron-irradiation treatment the electronic intergrain-coupling strength can be continuously tuned over a wide range. This provides unique access to the transport properties of this material close to the insulator-to-metal transition. In the last part of the review, recent developments in mechanical strain-sensing and the detection of small, inhomogeneous magnetic fields by employing nanogranular FEBID structures are highlighted.
Conclusion: FEBID has now reached a state of maturity that allows a shift of the focus towards the development of new application fields, be it in basic research or applied. This is shown for selected examples in the present review. At the same time, when seen from a broader perspective, FEBID still has to live up to the original idea of providing a tool for electron-controlled chemistry on the nanometer scale. This has to be understood in the sense that, by providing a suitable environment during the FEBID process, the outcome of the electron-induced reactions can be steered in a controlled way towards yielding the desired composition of the products. The development of a FEBID-specialized surface chemistry is mostly still in its infancy. Next to application development, it is this aspect that will likely be a guiding light for the future development of the field of focused electron beam induced deposition.