A collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, has produced a new 3D printing-powered micro fabrication technique.
Termed “Implosion Fabrication” or “ImpFab” the method takes a leaf out of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, shrinking 3D printed objects down to size.
Shrinking objects to 10 times their original size
The ImpFab technique produces objects with nanoscale features (less than 1μm in size). This is achieved by the use of a sacrificial hydrogel.
In this process, sometimes used in 3D bioprinting, a hydrogel is 3D printed as a scaffold. This scaffold, which can take on virtually any shape (see Alice below) is then seeded with particles of a desired material, i.e. metals, semiconductors and biomolecules.
After seeding, the hydrogel is dehydrated, or “imploded.” This results in a shrinkage of ten times (or more of) the scaffold’s former size.
Nanofabrication is a real challenge for the 3D printing industry. Already working within this sphere are Nanoscribe, maker of the Photonic Professional GT two-photon lithography 3D printer, the Greer Group at California Institute of Technology (CalTech) making microbatteries, and Singapore’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC).
In a paper presenting the ImpFab approach reserach demonstrate the ability to “directly write highly conductive, 3D silver nanostructures within an acrylic scaffold via volumetric silver deposition.”
“Future iterations,” conclude the authors, “may use alternative chemistries, such as dendrimeric complexes for direct deposition of metals or semiconductors within the hydrogel, or DNA-addressed material deposition.”
Full results of the study, titled “3D nanofabrication by volumetric deposition and controlled shrinkage of patterned scaffolds” are available in Science journal. The paper is co-authored by Daniel Oran, Samuel G. Rodriques, Ruixuan Gao, Shoh Asano, Mark A. Skylar-Scott, Fei Chen, Paul W. Tillberg, Adam H. Marblestone and Edward S. Boyden.
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Featured image shows a 3D printed ImpFab scaffold. Image via Ed Boyden et. al.