Microrobotics and Control Engineering

Research Group:
Robotic Manipulation, Characterization and Processing on the Nanoscale

During the last years the field of manipulation, characterization and processing of nanomaterials has become one of the main research topics in material science and nanotechnology. The extraordinary physical properties of novel nanomaterials enable numerous applications. Our group is working with nanomaterials referring to structures with nanometer sizes in at least one dimension: monolayered sheets of carbon, so-called graphene, is the best-known example for two-dimensional nanostructures, while nanotubes and nanowires made of different materials, such as Au, Si, and ZnO, are fascinating one-dimensional structures in which carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are the most prominent example. In addition to these synthesized materials our group is working on biomaterials such as DNA and wood fibers. These nanomaterials provide a basis for novel actuator and sensor technologies and can improve existing electronic devices, aiming primarily at nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS).

To optimize the nanomaterials’ fabrication techniques and allow the assembly of prototypic devices, reliable manipulation, characterization and flexible processing of these nanomaterials is required. In this area, the micro-nano-integration of these nanomaterials into existing microsystems remains a challenge. Automated nanorobotic systems are one of the most promising enabling technologies for this challenge closing the gap between bottom-up and top-down approaches. Our group develops and applies nanorobotic strategies for the manipulation, characterization and processing of nanomaterials bringing them one step closer to their potential applications.

Our group is part of the NanoTP COST action „Designing novel materials for nanodevices: From Theory to Practice“, that is designed to bring together theorists and experimentalists in the field of nanotechnology.

Nanorobotic Technologies and Systems

Using our excellent laboratory equipment and in close collaboration with the group Tools and Technologies for Automation in Micro- and Nanorobotics we develop modular nanorobotic systems for automated, high-throughput manipulation, characterization and processing of nanomaterials. For example, the workgroup uses the following nanorobotic systems and technologies:

Modular nanorobotic systems integrated into different microscopic environments (SEM, AFM, OM) for analyzing and applying 1D-, 2D- and 3D- nanomaterials.

Novel scanning techniques, exchangeable tips, and drift compensation for automated (AFM)-based manipulation, characterization and processing of nanomaterials.

Combination and integration of an AFM/HRSEM/FIB system with gas injection system for hybrid analysis and processing as well as AFM-based manipulation with visual real-time SEM feedback.

Fields of Applications


Graphene is a two-dimensional monolayer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb crystal. It is a material with remarkable and unique properties: Graphene is the thinnest and strongest material known and shows the highest thermal and electrical conductivity ever measured at room temperature. It reconciles such conflicting qualities as brittleness and ductility and promises a variety of potential applications, e.g. field emission, sensors, flexible electronics and energy.

Handling and manipulation of suspended graphene requires adapted experimental setups due to the extraordinary high adhesive forces of this true 2D nanomaterial. Our research activities focus on the analysis of suspended graphene flakes applying different nanorobotic strategies and tools such as high-aspect ratio tungsten tips, AFM cantilever or micro-four-point probes. These tools are driven by robotic stages with internal sensors having nanometer accuracy in closed-loop mode. The stages are mounted inside the vacuum chamber of a high-resolution scanning electron microscope equipped with a focused ion beam and gas injection system offering diverse manipulation, characterization and processing opportunities with direct visual feedback. In this way, the nanorobotic tools can be applied for local electrical and mechanical characterization experiments as well as for handling procedures suitable for prototyping of graphene-based devices.

Our division is one of the graphene related groups registered for the graphene flagship.

Contact person: Malte Bartenwerfer


One-dimensional objects, so-called nanowires and nanotubes, are highly discussed and gained more and more importance over the last decade. Their tiny dimensions itself reveal already quasi quantum-mechanical behavior, which results in tremendously improved material properties. Some nanowires for example, possess extraordinary performance in electrical conductivity, mechanical strain or semiconducting properties facilitating an improvement of conventional electromechanical devices: Applying these super-small objects as responsive part of a sensor can increase detection sensitivity and detection time, while decreasing power consumption and weight.

Our research involves nanowires made of different materials: from ordinary metal nanowires such as copper, covering semiconducting materials like silicon, silicon carbide and zinc oxide, up to novel materials such as carbon nanotubes. The research includes the mechanical and electrical characterization of these components, as well as their application in novel and prototypic devices as sensors and prototypic nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS).

Contact person: Malte Bartenwerfer

Carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have become a promising material in nanotechnology. The extraordinary physical properties of CNTs are the reason for a multitude of potential applications that are foreseen in different areas. Using current fabrication techniques the exact geometric properties of CNTs, and thus their physical characteristics, are not completely controllable. Chemical vapor deposition (CVD)-based techniques might become completely compatible with standard micro fabrication techniques in the near future and seem to be the best approach to realize the direct synthesis of CNTs in future devices. However, the micro-nano-integration of CNTs into existing micro systems is one of the main challenges. In order to optimize the fabrication techniques and to allow the assembly of CNT-based prototypic devices, reliable handling and characterization of CNTs is required. We are developing novel nanorobotic methods for the handling, characterization and processing of individual CNTs. For this purpose, a nanorobotic system is integrated into a scanning electron microscope (SEM) facilitating the development of direct and nondestructive methods for mechanical and electrical characterization of as-grown CNTs that are coming directly from its CVD-based fabrication without any further treatment. In addition, novel strategies for the reproducible microgripper-based pick-and-place handling of CNTs are developed that enable the assembly of prototypic CNT-based devices. Focused ion beam (FIB) processing is used to shorten and bend carbon nanotubes.

Electrothermal microgrippers and micro-four-point probes are developed by our Danish project partner the Nanointegration group at DTU Nanotech in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In the frame of the European research project NanoHand, the nanorobotic assembly of CNT-enhanced AFM supertips has been fully automated.

Video on YouTube NanoLab

Contact person: Malte Bartenwerfer

Woodfibres and microfibrillated cellulose (MFC)

Cellulose is the most common macromolecule worldwide. Therefore, it is not surprising to find so many products based on plants or its components. Cellulose fibers are for example best known in the form of paper, although there are many other high-tech applications based on this material. Especially during the rising awareness of sustainable raw material use more and more applications become available or are under development, such as composites or medical/health products.

Paper production and the papermaking process rely to a great extent on the experiences of the paper makers. Scientifically backed explanations of the paper fiber behavior and changes of properties during the different papermaking process steps are rare. The structure and ultrastructure of the paper fibers and its components (fibrils) are identified by recent research to have a significant influence. Furthermore, this ultrastructure focused research found evidence that the exact structure differs from the regular structure assumed in models so far. The size of these ultrastructure components ranges from tens of nanometers to several hundred nanometers or above. Therefore, new tools and measurement techniques need to be designed and validated.

Nanorobotics is the ideal candidate for this kind of toolbox. It offers features to deal with fibers, fibrils or even fiber bonds. With respect to the possible automation of nanorobotic systems, quantities of test samples from 10 to 10.000 or more can be processed in adequate time. Realizing new measurement possibilities, which leads to new or customized characteristic values for these structures, is one of our research topics. For this purpose, we are performing manipulations of fibers, macro-/micro-fibrils and films of microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) not just under the optical microscope but also inside the scanning electron microscope (SEM) with atomic force microscope support (AFM-in-SEM). To reveal the inner (ultra-) structure of the fibers we are developing and evaluating tools and methods to mechanically dissect parts of the fiber wall. For instance, the deformation/collapsibility of the fiber cross-section can be observed while the acting force is logged. The resulting energy could be used as an indicator for the energy consumption during refining or other processes. Such characteristic data are evaluated in close cooperation with paper industry and other research institutes.

Our group is one of the management committee members of the COST Action FP1105  “Understanding wood cell wall structure, biopolymer interaction and composition: implications for current products and new materials”.

Contact person: Malte Bartenwerfer

AFM-based nanomanipulation and 3D-nanometrology

The atomic force microscope (AFM) is one of the common analysis tools in most research groups worldwide. In addition to standard topographic measurements, the AFM is more and more used to perform characterization of nanomaterials by force-distance-curves or even AFM-based nanomanipulation or structuring. Due to a wide range of problems, this AFM-based nanomanipulation is mostly conducted manually and therefore time consuming. For this reason, we are working on the development of drift compensation techniques in order to realize a full automation of AFM-based nanomanipulation and lithography tasks. Furthermore, we are developing exchangeable and customizable AFM probe tips as well as novel scanning algorithms that allow for a three-dimensional analysis of high aspect ratio structures and sidewall scanning within the European research project NanoBits (-> Videos).

Contact person: Malte Bartenwerfer

Processing of Nanomaterials

Another field of research is the machining of materials on the micro- and nanoscale, whereby particle beam based deposition and etching technologies, such as EBiD and FIB milling, are used. As an example, this allows retrospective structuring of semiconductor surfaces and the construction of nanoscale sensors, actuators and other functionalized elements. According to this, we develop and apply gas injection systems, which allocate the necessary process gases.

The process of Electron Beam induced Deposition (EBiD) allows to create structures with dimensions of only some hundred nanometers by writing them with an electron beam, e.g. in a scanning electron microscope (SEM). In our group EBiD is used and improved for different applications. A standard application is nanobonding, where the deposition acts as a kind of glue to connect micro- or nanoscale Objects to each other. Another application is the creation of electrical connections. Therefor nanoscale electrical conductive lines are "written" onto suitable surfaces, e.g. to connect small objects which are situated on the surface. The most challenging application for EBiD is the creation of three dimensional structures with special properties. Examples are solid or flexible elements for nanorobotic applications, functionalized parts with special electrical or electromechanical properties or sensor elements.

Focused ion beam (FIB) milling enables the direct processing of Nanomaterials by a sputtering process. This can not only be used for a precise structuring of the nanomaterials itself, but also facilitates the processing and manufacturing of suitable testing substrates and prototypic device architectures.

Contact person: Malte Bartenwerfer


Completed Projects

  • DriftAFM - Kompensation von thermalen Drifteffekten in der Rasterkraftmikroskopie
  • Powerbonds - Enhancement of Fiber and Bond Strength Properties for Creating Added Value in Paper Products
  • NADESTA - Development of a Nanohandling Desktop Station for Nanocharacterization of CNTs and biological cells by a piezoresistive AFM Probe
  • EfuSNa - Eigenschaften funktionaler Strukturen auf der Nanoskala, hergestellt durch elektronen-strahlgestützte Verfahren
  • NANOBITS - Exchangeable and Customizable Scanning Probe Tips
  • NANORAC – Nanorobotics for Assembly and Characterization
  • NANOHAND - Micro-Nano System for Automatic Handling of Nanoobjects
  • FIBLYS - Building an Analyzing Focused Ion Beam for Nanotechnology 
  • Gold-EBiD - Robotergestützte Herstellung und Charakterisierung von Goldschichten und Goldnanostrukturen aus neuartigen Designerprecursoren
  • ZuNaMi - Zukünftige Verfahren der Nano-/Mikroproduktion
  • NanoStore - Mikroroboterzelle zur automatisierten Handhabung und Montage von CNTs für die Integration von Mikro- und Nanoobjekten innerhalb eines Rasterelektronenmikroskop
  • ROBOSEM - Development of a Smart Nanorobot for Sensor-based Handling


Teaching offers are only available in German. For questions please contact us via email.

Most relevant papers

•  M. Weigel-Jech, M. Bartenwerfer, M. Mikczinski, S. Fatikow: “Biomaterials as Bonding Wires for Integrated Circuit Nanopackaging”, IEEE/ASME International Conference on Advanced Intelligent Mechatronics (AIM 2011), Budapest, Hungary, 3-7 July, 2011.
•  M. Mikczinski, M. Bartenwerfer, P. Saketi, S. Heinemann, R. Passas, P.Kallio, S. Fatikow: “Towards automated Manipulation and Characterisation of Paper-making fibres and its components.” In: Fine Structure of Papermaking Fibres, COST Action E54 “Characterisation of the fine structure and properties of papermaking fibres using new technologies”. Eds: Ander P., Bauer W., Heinemann S., Kallio P., Passas R. and Treimanis A. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, pp. 163-178, 2011. ISBN 978-91-576-9007-4.
•  V. Eichhorn, M. Bartenwerfer, and S. Fatikow: “Nanorobotic Assembly and Focused Ion Beam Processing of Nanotube-enhanced AFM Probes”, IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering, 2012, in press.
•  S. Fatikow, V. Eichhorn, and M. Bartenwerfer: “Nanomaterials Enter the Silicon-Based CMOS Era - Nanorobotic Technologies for Nanoelectronic Devices”, IEEE Nanotechnology Magazine, 2012, Volume 6, Number 1, pp. 14-18, March, 2012, Doi: 10.1109/MNANO.2011.2181735, 2012.
•  V. Eichhorn: “Nanorobotic Handling and Characterization of Carbon Nanotubes Inside the Scanning Electron Microscope”, München: Verlag Dr. Hut, 2011. 161 pages, ISBN: 978-3-86853-844-1 .
•  M. Bartenwerfer, S. Fatikow, R. Tunnell, U. Mick, C. Stolle, C. Diederichs, D. Jasper, and V. Eichhorn: "Towards Automated AFM-based Nanomanipulation in a Combined Nanorobotic AFM/HRSEM/FIB System", Proc. of the IEEE International Conference on Mechatronics and Automation (ICMA 2011), Beijing, China, 7-10 August, 2011, pp. 171-176. Best Paper Award.
•  V. Eichhorn, S. Fatikow, O. Sardan Sukas, T.M. Hansen, P. Bøggild, and L.G. Occhipinti: "Novel Four-Point-Probe Design and Nanorobotic Dual Endeffector Strategy for Electrical Characterization of As-grown SWCNT-Bundles", Proc. of IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2010), Anchorage, Alaska, USA, 3-8 May, 2010, pp. 4100-4105.
•  S. Fatikow, V. Eichhorn, D. Jasper, M. Weigel-Jech, F. Niewiera, F. Krohs: "Automated Nanorobotic Handling of Bio- and Nano-Materials", Proc. of the 6th IEEE Conference on Automation Science and Engineering (CASE 2010), Toronto, Canada, August 21-24, 2010, pp. 1-6, Best Paper Award.
•  E.B. Brousseau, F. Krohs, E. Caillaud, S. Dimov, O. Gibaru, S. Fatikow: "Development of a Novel Process Chain Based on Atomic Force Microscopy Scratching for Small and Medium Series Production of Polymer Nanostructured Components", ASME Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, vol. 132, no. 3, pp. 031001, 2010.
•  V. Eichhorn, M. Bartenwerfer, S. Fatikow: "Nanorobotic Strategy for Nondestructive Mechanical Characterization of Carbon Nanotubes", Bentham Journal Micro and Nanosystems, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 32-37, 2010.
•  R.T. Rajendra Kumar, S.U. Hassan, O. Sardan, V. Eichhorn, F. Krohs, S. Fatikow, P. Bøggild: "Nanobits: customisable scanning probe tips", Nanotechnology, vol. 20, no. 39, pp. 395703, 2009.
•  F. Krohs, C. Onal, M. Sitti, S. Fatikow: "Towards Automated Nanoassembly with the Atomic Force Microscope: A Versatile Drift Compensation Procedure", ASME Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement and Control, vol. 131, no. 6, pp. 061106, 2009.