We all hear about the agile Maker Movement and its ever cheaper means of making ever more diverse objects using shareware to turn bits into atoms shaped into things we can hold, admire and hopefully use. As if that weren’t exciting enough, now mankind has the ability to turn bits into atoms that shape very small objects – on the microscopic scale – fast!
The German spinout of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Nanoscribe announced that it can precisely make objects on a scale of 0.3 mm with features as small as 30 nanometers. The key to effectively and quickly producing on this tiny scale is a technique called two-photon polymerization finely deflecting laser beam with mirrors, and piezoelectric positioning of the stage holding the part being made.
Although researchers have been able to use printing techniques to make microscopic objects such quantum dots for imaging of cells, microfluidic platforms to analyze ultra-small amounts of biologic materials, and other microstructures for more than a decade, these processes have been slow to date.
This new technology holds promise for custom MEMS, or micro-electro-mechanical systems which have enabled accelerometers for our smart phones and vehicles, personalized medicine delivery systems, tissue engineering and other sophisticated applications for us to marvel at tomorrow. Manufacturers of everyday electronics or medical devices will someday be able to “print” tiny custom parts cheaply to conform to the individual needs of a customer or patient. As additive manufacturing technologies become more reliable and the materials readily available, the MEP network will be positioned to bring them into Main Street manufacturers.
You can read more about potential applications this breakthrough may have in a recent MIT Technology Review article.