Technology Review yesterday covered a new technique developed by Stephen Chou and Qiangfei Xia for improving microchip quality without increasing costs.

The idea, basically, is to liquefy microchip components and then let surface tension naturally “melt away” defects, producing in the end structures with precisely defined edges — important for chip performance.

“What is nice about the method is that it takes advantage of self-assembly,” George Whitesides, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University and a pioneer in nanofabrication, tells Stephen Ornes of Technology Review. “You start with a structure that isn’t the shape you want, and let it fold itself into the shape you want.”

The researchers report on their work in the May 4 online issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

The work inspired quite a lot of conversation on slashdot and was covered by nanodot.

For a full description of the technology, see this piece by Chandra Shekhar.

By the way, Qiangfei Xia won third prize in Princeton’s most recent Art of Science competition, for the image above — which he has appropriately titled “Easter Bonnet.” This and other images from the Art of Science exhibit were recently featured by the Washington Post.

Qiangfei describes the image this way: “A laser pulse melted a tiny piece of metal on a silicon chip, resulting in an unexpected shape that looks like a very, very small Easter bonnet. An unintended dust particle serves as a decorative flower on its top. The size of the bonnet in this photo, measured from left to right, is about 45 micrometers, half the diameter of a human hair.”