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3D printer writes microscopic patterns

28 Apr 2014  | R. Colin Johnson

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IBM is also experimenting with using its 3D printing techniques in quantum computing applications where it will create patterns to control and manipulate light on-chip in ways not possible with traditional lithography. It claims one of the unique properties of the system for quantum prototypes is that 3D patterns can be formed to guide light around smooth corners, thereby reducing light scattering problems in light guides.


Figure 3: IBM has licensed its mechanism to SwissLitho, which packaged it into the NanoFrazor. (Source: SwissLitho)

SwissLitho also has interest from photonics companies to make microscopic lenses and waveguides and from bioscience users hoping to create tiny sorting mechanisms to separate out individual living cells. And security firms plan to use the NanoFrazor to create microscopic security tags to protect important documents, currency, passports, and priceless works of art from forgery.

At the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., last weekend, IBM showed off its 3D printer in the National Geographic Kids booth, where a microscopic magazine cover just 11µ x 14µ was shown (small enough to fit 2,000 on a single grain of salt). The National Geographic Kids received the Guinness World Record for smallest magazine cover at the show, which took IBM's 3D printer just 10 minutes to create.

IBM's microscopic 3D printer was invented in same lab where Gerd Binnig invented the atomic force microscope (AFM) and scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1986 along with Heinrich Roher (who died in 2013).

SwissLitho has already delivered its first NanoFrazor to McGill University's Nanotools Microfab Lab in Montreal, where it will be used to prototype novel nanoscale devices. As its first application, McGill created a nanoscale relief map of Canada measuring just 300µ.

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