Netanyahu’s tiny gift to Obama: A marvel of Israeli nanotech

Prime minister to present the US president with a minuscule version of both countries’ declarations of independence

In deference to the ancient custom of world leaders exchanging tchotchkes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bestow upon US President Barack Obama, when he arrives on Wednesday for a three-day visit, a gift — but it’s a really small one.

The stone, with the mounted gold-coated silicon chip, to be presented to President Obama (Photo credit: Courtesy Technion)
The stone, with the mounted gold-coated silicon chip, to be presented to President Obama (Photo credit: Courtesy Technion)

Obama is to receive a gold-coated silicon chip etched with the declarations of independence of Israel and the United States. The etching, 20 nanometers (0.00002 mm) deep, was done on a 0.04 square millimeter portion of the chip. The chip was affixed to a Jerusalem stone dating to the Second Temple Period (1st century BCE to 1st century CE), of the kind used to seal clay vessels.

Naturally, an electron microscope will be on hand when Netanyahu presents the stone and chip, so that Obama can look his gift horse in the mouth.

The etching is more than just a gift; it’s a symbol of the common values that Israel and the United States hold, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement, and it’s also a great example of Israeli nanotechnology in action. One of Netanyahu’s objectives on this visit is to show off to Obama Israeli technology, and the minuscule but perfectly formed display of the founding documents of both nations is a good example of that technology.

The etching was done by scientists at the Technion, bombarding accelerated charged atoms, called ions, at various points on the surface of the chip. When an ion beam hits the chip it creates a tiny recess (in this case 20 nanometers deep), in similar fashion to digging tiny holes in the ground using a water jet from an irrigation hose, Technion scientists said. The letters themselves, said the Technion, are about a quarter-micron large (a human hair is 80 microns in diameter).

The preparation work for the etching took about a week, but the entire engraving process, using a computer, took less than an hour. The image etched on the chip contains over two million dots. The original image was translated into etching instructions using a program developed for the purpose by Ohad Zohar, who pursued his PhD under Uri Sivan of the Physics Department. The engraving was done by Tzipi Cohen-Hyams, in charge of the Focused Ion Beam lab in the Russel Berrie Nanotechnology Institute, with a large Technion team contributing know-how.

Prof. Wayne D. Kaplan, dean of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said the institute’s special equipment enabled the staff to accomplish the task. “The Technion is a leader in microscopy and iron beam microscopy,” needed to perform nano-manipulations of material.

Naturally, the staff is quite proud of the gift — enabling Obama to go home with a unique example of what the Start-Up Nation has achieved.

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