Science 3 min read

Researchers can now Shrink 3D Objects to Nanoscale

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Garfieldbigberm /

Researchers just developed a new approach that enables them to shrink 3D objects to the nanoscale level.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a new technique which enables the nanoscale fabrication of 3D objects.

The approach also allows the scientists to pattern the fabricated objects with useful materials like metals, DNA, and quantum dots.  The team reported that their invention could be useful in many fields, ranging from optics to medicine to robotics.

“It’s a way of putting nearly any kind of material into a 3-D pattern with nanoscale precision,” Edward Boyden, Professor in Neurotechnology and an associate professor at MIT, said.

The researchers claimed that the technique could produce any structure and shape by using a polymer scaffold and laser patterns. Once the useful materials were attached to the framework, the MIT researchers shrink it to a size one-thousandth the volume of the original 3D object.

Read: New Graphene Quantum Dots Structure Discovered by Researchers

Shrinking 3D Objects

While other techniques that can create nanostructures already exist, their capabilities are usually limited. For instance, a method which utilizes light to etch patterns onto a surface can only create 2D nanostructures.

Other approaches can create 3D nanostructures but require a gradual adding of layers on top of one another. Scientists found this process slow and challenging.

On the other hand, there are techniques that directly 3D print nanoscale objects. However, they can only be used on specific materials like polymers and plastics, both of which have limited functional properties for many applications.

How MIT Researchers Shrink 3D Objects

The MIT team reportedly used a technique they developed years ago for expansion microscopy. By reversing the process of expansion microscopy, the researchers discovered that they could create and embed large-scale objects in expanded hydrogels then shrink them to nanoscale size. They called the new approach implosion fabrication.

During expansion microscopy, the team used polyacrylate absorbent material as a scaffold for the nanofabrication process. They bathed the structure in fluorescein solution. Then, by using two-photon microscopy, the researchers targeted certain points deep in the structure and attached the fluorescein molecules in those locations.

“You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors. It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle,” Boyden explained.

When the fluorescein molecules were in place, the team shrank the structure using acid. The acid causes the hydrogel to contract by blocking its negative charges. The process then enables the scientists to shrink 3D objects ten-fold in each dimension, making it possible to organize materials in a low-density scaffold.

The team’s technique makes use of equipment already present in many biology and materials science laboratories. This makes it highly accessible for other scientists who want to try it. The MIT team are now exploring other potential applications of their technology.

In what industries do you believe nanofabrication of 3D objects will be useful?

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Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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  1. Uolevi Kattun December 17 at 8:40 am GMT

    According to Stefano Mancuso and his book Plant Revolution plants are modular and decentralized organisms. So perhaps plantae might be the simplest area to develop cyborgs and hybrids with organic and inorganic components.

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