How to shrink 3D objects to the nanoscale: the new MIT discovery

How to shrink 3D objects to the nanoscale: the new MIT discovery
© NASA, ESA, and D. Player (STScI)

It is possible to shrink 3D objects of nearly any shape to the nanoscale. MIT researchers have invented a method to do this and can pattern the objects with a variety of useful materials.

The researchers can create any shape and structure they want by patterning a polymer scaffold with a laser. After they attach other useful materials to the scaffold, they shrink 3D objects to generate nanoscale structures one thousandth the volume of the original. The materials which can be patterned on the nanoscale 3D objects include metals, quantum dots, and DNA.

Edward Boyden, an associate professor of biological engineering and of brain and cognitive sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said: “It’s a way of putting nearly any kind of material into a 3D pattern with nanoscale precision.”

How to shrink 3D objects

Boyden added: “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.”

According to one of the lead authors, Daniel Oran: “It’s a bit like film photography — a latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light. Then, you can develop that latent image into a real image by attaching another material, silver, afterwards. In this way implosion fabrication can create all sorts of structures, including gradients, unconnected structures, and multimaterial patterns.”

The significance of nanoscale materials

“People have been trying to invent better equipment to make smaller nanomaterials for years, but we realized that if you just use existing systems and embed your materials in this gel, you can shrink them down to the nanoscale, without distorting the patterns,” another lead author, Samuel Rodriques says.

Boyden concluded: “There are all kinds of things you can do with this. Democratizing nanofabrication could open up frontiers we can’t yet imagine.”

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