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Implosion Fabrication Shrinks 3D Objects To Nanoscale

“It’s a way of putting nearly any kind of material into a 3-D pattern with nanoscale precision,” says Edward Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology and an associate professor of biological engineering and of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT.

Existing techniques for creating nanostructures are limited in what they can accomplish. Etching patterns onto a surface with light can produce 2-D nanostructures but doesn’t work for 3-D structures. It is possible to make 3-D nanostructures by gradually adding layers on top of each other, but this process is slow and challenging. And, while methods exist that can directly 3-D print nanoscale objects, they are restricted to specialized materials like polymers and plastics, which lack the functional properties necessary for many applications. Furthermore, they can only generate self-supporting structures. (The technique can yield a solid pyramid, for example, but not a linked chain or a hollow sphere.)

To overcome these limitations, Boyden and his students decided to adapt a technique that his lab developed a few years ago for high-resolution imaging of brain tissue. This technique, known as expansion microscopy, involves embedding tissue into a hydrogel and then expanding it, allowing for high resolution imaging with a regular microscope. Hundreds of research groups in biology and medicine are now using expansion microscopy, since it enables 3-D visualization of cells and tissues with ordinary hardware.

By reversing this process, the researchers found that they could create large-scale objects embedded in expanded hydrogels and then shrink them to the nanoscale, an approach that they call “implosion fabrication.”

The longer I run this site (about fifteen years), the more clear it is that there is no science fiction idea that cannot (eventually) be implemented in at least some form.

For example, in his 1966 novel Fantastic Voyage, science fiction author Isaac Asimov imagines a way of shrinking existing objects by many orders of magnitude:

The phrase came clearly over the communication system, as Carter watched the Proteus shrink. It did so slowly at first, so that one could only tell it was happening by the change in the way it overlapped the hexagonal structures that made up the floor. Those that were partially revealed beyond the edge of the ship's structure crept outward, and eventually tiles that had earlier been completely hidden began to show. All around the Proteus, the hexagonals emerged, and the rate of miniaturization accelerated until the ship was shrinking like a patch of ice on a warm surface. Carter had watched miniaturization a hundred times, but never with quite the effect upon himself that he was experiencing now. It was as though the ship was hurling down a long, infinitely long hole; falling in absolute silence and growing smaller and smaller as the distance increased to miles, to tens of miles, to hundreds... The ship was a white beetle now, resting upon the central hexagon immediately under the miniaturizer; resting upon the one red hexagon in the world of white ones--the Zero Module. The Proteus was still falling, still shrinking, and Carter, with an effort, raised his hand. The glow of the miniaturizer faded to a dull red and miniaturization stopped.

(Read more about Miniaturization from Fantastic Voyage)

Via MIT.

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