Assembling atom-sized pieces for micromachines goal of DARPA A2P program

ARLINGTON, Virginia. DARPA officials are looking to develop technologies and processes to build nanometer-scale pieces whose dimensions are near the size of atoms—into systems, components, or materials that are at least millimeter-scale in size. The big hurdle to this goal is that many common materials, when fabricated at nanometer-scale, exhibit unique and attractive “atomic-scale” behaviors but lose them when they are built at product scale dimensions such as a few centimeters. So DARPA launched the Atoms to Product (A2P) program and chose ten groups to go and solve this challenge.

The beneficial behaviors include quantized current-voltage behavior, dramatically lower melting points and significantly higher specific heats.

The ten companies seeking these benefits for DARPA include: Zyvex Labs in Richardson, Texas; SRI in Menlo Park, California; in Boston, Massachusetts; the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana; HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California; PARC in Palo Alto, California; Embody in Norfolk, Virginia; Voxtel in Beaverton, Oregon; in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Microscopic tools such as this “atom writer” may be used to fabricate minuscule light-manipulating structures on surfaces under the DARPA Atoms to Product (A2P) program. (Photo courtesy of Boston University.)

“The ability to assemble atomic-scale pieces into practical components and products is the key to unlocking the full potential of ,” says John Main, DARPA program manager. “The DARPA Atoms to Product Program aims to bring the benefits of -style to systems and products that combine mechanical, electrical, and chemical processes.”

The program calls for closing this assembly gap in two steps: From atoms to microns and from microns to millimeters. Performers are required to addressing one or both of these steps and have been assigned to one of three working groups, each with a distinct focus area.

To view summary descriptions of each awardee's planned work within the three working groups, visit