Vol.1, No.2,142-150 (2009) Natural Science
Copyright © 2009 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
Electric-Jet Assisted Layer-by-Layer Deposition of Gold
Nanoparticles to Prepare Conducting Tracks
S. R. Samarasinghe1, Isabel Pastoriza-Santos3, M. J. Edirisinghe1*, M. J. Reece2,
Luis M. Liz-Marzán3, M. R. Nangrejo1, Z. Ahmad
1Department of Mechanical Engineering, University College of London, Torrington Place, London. WC1E 7JE, UK;
2Centre for Materials Research, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London. E1 4NS, UK
3Department of Physical Chemistry, University of Vigo, Vigo 36310, Spain
Received 18 July 2009; revised 30 July 2009; accepted 3 August 2009.
A suspension of 15nm diameter gold nanoparti-
cles has been deposited along a line on a silicon
substrate with the assistance of a jet generated
in an electric field. In order to control the
evaporation of the solvent used to suspend the
gold nanoparticles, a heating device was used
to change the substrate temperature. Layer-by-
layer deposition enabled the direct writing of
gold tracks having an electrical resistivity of 1.8
× 10-7 m, only about an order of magnitude
above the electrical resistivity of bulk gold.
Keywords: Gold; Electrohydrodynamic; Jet; Direct
Write; Track; Electrical Conductivity
The forming of fine metallic patterns from colloids and
suspensions is gaining tremendous interest because it is a
potential fabrication route for the next generation elec-
tronic devices. Techniques, such as electron-beam li-
thography and photo-lithography are the most popular
patterning techniques, and are at the heart of modern day
microfabrication, nanotechnology and molecular elec-
tronics. Lithography techniques require a mask or resis-
tive film to pattern microstructures on substrates and
thereafter harsh chemical etching is needed to produce
the final pattern. This makes them unsuitable for pat-
terning nanoparticles or molecules with organic or bio-
logical functionalities, since it impairs the organic mole-
cules and biological entities [1]. In addition, these litho-
graphic techniques are not only time consuming but also
quite complicated. For these reasons, the development of
convenient and fast processing techniques to fabricate
conductive lines has attracted more attention in recent
years [2].
Recently developed techniques, for example, micro-
contact printing, also require an elastomer stamp for
patterning, which can deform due to its elastomeric na-
ture, resulting in distorted patterns [3]. Dip-pen lithog-
raphy is also a recently developed patterning technique,
which allows direct transporting and patterning of parti-
cles and molecules at nanometer scale (30-100 nm) onto
a substrate from the tip of an atomic force microscope.
However, this technique can usually convey only a small
amount of materials, since the transfer efficiency is rela-
tively low [1].
Direct write technologies have been explored recently
for fabricating fine patterns whose line widths range
from the meso to the nanoscale. The term direct write
refers to any technique or process that is capable of de-
positing, dispensing or processing different types of ma-
terials on various surfaces following a preset pattern or
layout. The main advantages of the direct write approach
is that patterns or structures can be obtained without the
use of moulds or pre-fabrication processes, masks, and
liquids for etching. Direct write technologies are there-
fore low cost, high speed, non-contact and environmen-
tally friendly processes [4,5].
As a non-contact patterning technique, ink-jet printing
(IJP) has been used in the last decade for a number of
new applications, such as the fabrication of organic
light-emitting diodes, transistors and integrated circuits,
conducting polymer devices, structural polymers, ce-
ramics and biomolecular arrays [6]. Table 1 shows re-
cent publications on fabricating conducting tracks by
ink-jet printing and the concentration and resistivities
achieved by other researchers. The metal concentration
used in most of the studies varies from 20 – 48 wt.%.
Printing using a jet generated in an electric field is an
emerging direct write patterning technology. In this
method, the medium is made to jet and disperse into fine
droplets, which are deposited on a substrate using com-
puter control to form a pre-designed pattern. Deposition
S. R. Samarasinghe et al. / Natural Science 1 (2009) 142-150
Copyright © 2009 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
Table 1. Summary of recent works on fabricating conducting tracks by IJP.
Metal Particle
Size (nm) Width (µm) Conc.
(m) Ref.
Ag 10 – 20 60 34.5 Electrical 2.7 x 10-8 [10]
Ag 21 90 20 150
0C 3.2 x 10-8 [11]
Ag 1 – 10 125 30 300 0C 3.5 x 10-7 [12]
Ag 20 65 20 300
0C 3.5 x 10-8 [13]
Ag - 100 16 150
0C 4.8 x 10-8 [14]
Ag - 750 48 300
0C 1.5 x 10-7 [15]
Ag 10 – 50 130 25 260 0C 1.6 x 10-7 [2]
Ag 5 – 10 160 60 Microwave 1.6 x 10-7 [16]
Ag 5 – 7 1500 10 320 0C 1.1 x 10-6 [6]
Au 2 – 4 17 30 Laser 1.4 x 10-7 [17]
Au 2 – 5 20 30 Laser 1.4 x 10-7 [18]
Au - 360 31 500
0C 2.7 x 10-7 [19]
Au 2 – 4 125 34 Laser 6.2 x 10-8 [20]
Cu 40 – 50 65 20 325 0C 1.72 x 10-7 [21]
Figure 1. Schematic diagram of the electrohydrodynamic jet printing process.
of materials using electric field assisted jet printing of-
fers some advantages over other non-contact printing
techniques. Firstly, by careful tailoring of the physical
properties of the medium and by suitably fixing its flow
rate and the applied voltage controlling the electric field
it is possible to produce very fine droplets in the range of
40nm - 1.8µm [7,8]. Second, the diameter of the capil-
laries (needles, nozzles) used in this method is much
coarser (> 100µm inner diameter) than the capillaries
used in ink-jet printing (usually around 20-60µm). The
use of larger capillaries reduces the possibilities of
blockages and allows viscous suspension containing
high volume loading (above 30 vol.%) of solid particles
to be processed [9].
Electric-field assisted jet printing has been used to
produce conducting tracks from silver nanoparticles
[22,23], the silver concentrations used in their experi-
ments varied from 20 – 30 wt. %. In contrast, in this
S. R. Samarasinghe et al. / Natural Science 1 (2009) 142-150
Copyright © 2009 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
paper, a low concentration gold suspension (~0.1 wt. %)
containing 15nm diameter particles was used to deposit
conducting tracks layer-by-layer with the aid of a jet
generated in an electric field.
2.1. Preparation of Gold Suspension
Tetrachloroauric acid and trisodium citrate were pur-
chased from Aldrich. Poly (vinylpyrrolidone) (PVP, mo-
lecular weight 10,000) was supplied by Fluka. All of the
chemicals were used as received and milli-Q water was
used to make up all solutions (R > 18.2M cm). Gold
nanoparticles with an average diameter of 15nm and 10%
polydispersity were synthesized according to the standard
sodium citrate reduction method [24] by boiling 5 10-4
M HAuCl4 in the presence of 1.6 10-3 M sodium citrate
for 900s. After cooling down, the particles were trans-
ferred into ethanol upon functionalization with PVP [25].
Briefly, an amount of PVP sufficient to coat the particles
with 60 PVP monomers per nm2 was dissolved by ultra-
sonication for 900s in water and added to the gold colloid.
The polymer was allowed to adsorb to the gold particles
overnight while stirring. The particles were subsequently
centrifuged (3500 r.p.m.) to remove the unbound PVP and
redispersed in ethanol.
2.2. Electric-field Assisted Jetting and
The apparatus (Figure 1) consists of a programmable
syringe pump (Harvard Apparatus Ltd., Edenbridge, UK)
supplying the gold suspension to the stainless steel noz-
zle (internal diameter of ~200µm and external diameter
of ~400µm) held in epoxy resin. The electrical power
supply unit consisted of a high voltage power supply
(Glassman Europe Ltd., Tadley, UK) capable of supply-
ing up to 30kV between the electrodes.
A custom built printing device was used to pattern
microstructures on substrates. It consists of a stepper
motor driven 2D system and the X and Y tables (Figure
1) are mounted on one another keeping the 2-axis profile
very low and the system is computer-driven using a pro-
grammable motion controller. A datum and an end of
travel limit sensor are fitted on each of the tables to trig-
ger the controller when a respective carriage reaches a
limit. A perspex sheet was mounted firmly on the 2-axis
system in order to accommodate the heating device,
which was used to control the temperature of the silicon
wafer substrate. A power supply was used to form an
electric field between the nozzle and the heating device.
Using motion planner software X and Y coordinates can
be created and downloaded to the 2-axis controller, al-
lowing the 2-axis system to write the path described by
the co-ordinates provided.
Printing was carried out under various conditions (see
text below) and tracks were sintered by heating to 400°C
at 2°C min-1 and held for 1800s before cooling down to
the ambient temperature.
2.3. Microscopical Characterisation
Samples were coated with carbon before examination by
Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Energy Dis-
persive X-ray (EDX) analysis. The structure and the
surface morphology of the sintered films were investi-
gated using a JEOL JSM-6301F field emission scanning
electron microscope operating in the secondary electron
mode with an accelerating voltage of 10 kV and with a
working distance up to 15mm. The EDX analysis was
performed with an Oxford INCA Energy 200 X-ray en-
ergy dispersive spectrometer system.
2.4. Electrical Testing
In order to measure the resistance of the tracks, silver
(Silver Ink-P6100, Johnson Matthey Catalysts, Enfield,
UK) electrodes were placed along the sintered track.
Firstly, a multimeter (FLUKE 189 TRUE RMS) was
used to measure the resistance of the tracks and later a
four-point method was used to obtain a more accurate
result by eliminating the resistance of the electrodes and
the equipment used.
When the electric field is applied, the gold suspension
jets (Figure 1) and droplets from the jet break-up were
deposited on silicon wafers in order to produce a con-
tinuous track. The processing parameters such as flow
rate, applied voltage and the distance between the sub-
strate and needle exit were varied to find the optimum
pattering conditions. Thereafter in all of the patterning
experiments the flow rate and applied voltage were set to
5 x 10-11 m3s-1 and 1.4 kV, respectively, and the distance
between the needle exit and substrate was ~0.4mm. For
the layer-by-layer deposition approach, the printing table
was moved at 5mm s-1 and a new layer was deposited
every 15s. Figure 2 shows an optical micrograph of a
single layer track. Due to the well known Marangoni
effect, immediately after deposition, most of the parti-
cles can be seen clustering together at the edges of the
line and a random distribution of particles can be seen at
the centre of the track.
Deegan et al [26]., reported that when the contact an-
gle of the droplet on the substrate is < 900 as in this case,
solvent evaporation plays a critical role in dry-
ing-mediated self assembly from a dilute colloidal drop-
let on a wetted surface. In order to observe the gold
nanoparticle distribution along the track at different sol-
vent evaporation rates, the substrate was heated at dif-
ferent temperatures (35 – 85 0C) before patterning. When
S. R. Samarasinghe et al. / Natural Science 1 (2009) 142-150
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Figure 2. Single layer gold track deposited at 5 x 10-11m3s-1 and 1.4 kV.
Figure 3. Optical micrographs of the single layer tracks deposited at 85 0C with increasing
table speeds. a) 3 mms-1, b) 6 mms-1 and c) 9 mms-1. Dotted lines indicates the edge of the
the substrate temperature was increased to >85 0C pat-
terning was not possible as a stable–jet could not be
achieved due to rapid solvent evaporation from the exit
of the needle. In order to find out the effect of patterning
speed, the table speed was varied from 3 – 9mm s-1.
Figure 3 shows optical micrographs of single layer of
track deposited at 85 0C and with varying table speeds,
although a higher speed generates a narrower track, the
number of gold particles in the track after a single print-
ing pass is higher at the lower speed (3mms-1), therefore,
this speed was selected for the multi-layer printing
deposition work described below.
Although the particle spreading during solvent evapo-
ration can be reduced significantly by increasing the
substrate temperature, due to the low concentration of
Au nanoparticles in the suspension it was not possible to
produce dense tracks by a single deposition run, thus a
layer-by-layer deposition technique was employed.
S. R. Samarasinghe et al. / Natural Science 1 (2009) 142-150
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Figure 4. A graph depicting the track width variation with increasing substrate temperature a) 65 0C, b) 75 0C and c)
85 0C . The flow rate was 5 x 10-11 m3s1, the applied voltage was 1.4 kV and 50 layers were prepared.
Figure 5. A graph depicting the line width variation with increasing layers at 85°C, a) 50, b) 100 and c) 150.
The flow rate was 5 x 10-11 m3s-1 and applied voltage was 1.4 kV.
Three different substrate temperatures were investigated
in conjunction with layer-by-layer deposition, Figure 4
shows the effect of increasing substrate temperature on
the track width prepared using 50 layers. The minimum
width is achieved at 75°C. Figure 5 shows the effect on
track width due to different numbers of layers deposited
at 85 0C. The line width increased with increasing num-
ber of layers due to the suttle oscillatory motion of the
jet and its digression from the centre line [23,27].
Figure 6 shows a macro image and scanning electron
micrographs of a sintered-layered track prepared using a
substrate temperature of 85°C. Although the films ap-
pear uniform at a low magnifications, at higher magnifi-
cations (Figure 7) they reveal that the films contain
“hillocks” (small Au hills that rise above the film). The
formation of hillocks is due to preferential landing of
some droplets on the substrate and is a characteristic of
the fabrication route used and have been explained in
S. R. Samarasinghe et al. / Natural Science 1 (2009) 142-150
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Figure 6. a) Sintered track image, b) scanning electron micrograph
of sintered track and c) spectra analysis of (b).
Figure 7. Scanning electron micrographs of the centre of the track with a) 50 layers, b) 100
layers and c) 150 layers. The substrate temperature was set at 85 0C. Bright spots indicate
the top of hillocks.
S. R. Samarasinghe et al. / Natural Science 1 (2009) 142-150
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Figure 8. Graph depicting the thickness variation with increasing layers a) 50, b) 100 and c) 150.
Figure 9. Voltage (V) vs current (I) relationship.
more detail in Samarasinghe et al [28,29]. The melting
point of 15nm diameter gold particles is ~950 0C [30,31].
Therefore, at 400 0C appreciable sintering and growth of
the particles can be expected. Cross-section images of
the tracks and the variation of the thickness of the tracks
deposited due to increasing the number of layers from 50
to 150 are illustrated in Figure 8. The thickness is an
essential parameters for the electrical measurements
discussed below.
Figure 9 shows that voltage-current (V-I) characteris-
tics of the tracks showed a linear Ohmic behaviour. The
specific electrical resistivity of the produced tracks
were calculated by the formulaLRA/
, where R is the
electrical resistance of the line, L is the length of line and
A is the cross section area of the line. The resistance of the
track was measured using the V-I curve. The cross section
area of the track was taken as A = wt where w is the width
of the track and t is the thickness of the track.
S. R. Samarasinghe et al. / Natural Science 1 (2009) 142-150
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Table 2. Resistivity of the printed tracks at different deposition parameters. The resistivity of bulk
gold is 2.4 x 10-8 m. Substrate temperature is 85°C.
Layers Length
(mm) Width (µm) Thickness (nm) Resistance
50 9.5 193 286 47.6 2.8 x 10-7
100 9.5 200 497 24.8 2.6 x 10-7
150 9.5 216 784 9.9 1.8 x 10-7
The electrical resistivity of the printed tracks (Table 2)
using a layer-by-layer approach was in the range of 1.8 x
10-7 – 2.8 x 10-7 m. Although this value is higher than
the resistivity of bulk gold, it is deemed satisfactory es-
pecially if one considers the fact that the initial concen-
tration of the gold suspension used in this study was 0.1
wt. % and no specific processing steps were performed
to target the reduction of electrical resistivity. The resis-
tivity compares well with the values of other ink-jet
based methods listed in Table 1.
This paper demonstrates that gold nanoparticles in dilute
suspensions have been successfully assembled to direct
write conducting tracks using a simple, economical elec-
tric-field assisted printing method. A printing speed of
3mms-1, a suspension flow rate of 5 × 10-11 m
3s-1, an
applied voltage of 1.4kV, and the distance between the
needle exit and substrate kept at 0.4m were found to be
optimum. However, the control of the number of layers
deposited and the substrate temperature are crucial pa-
rameters to control the track geometry. A track contain-
ing of 50 layers deposited with the substrate held at
85°C provided a continuous track with a resistivity of
2.8×10-7, but this was one order of magnitude above
the resistivity of bulk gold.
The authors would like to thank the Leverhulme Trust
(Grant: F/07 134/BL), EPSRC, UK (platform grant:
EP/E045839) for supporting this work. Dr. K.B. Chong
at QMUL is thanked for his assistance with electrical
measurements; SRS acknowledges the PhD scholarship
awarded by UCL, which initiated this work. The help of
the Archaeology Department of the University College
London is acknowledged for technical assistance with
the microscopy.
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