April 25, 2014

IBM Research in Zurich has created the smallest magazine cover in the world, using a tiny chisel to create an image so small that 2,000 of them could fit on a grain of salt.

Scientists carved the 11x14-micrometre image of two pandas that appeared on last month's cover of the National Geographic Kids magazine using technology similar to 3D printing.

To create the record-setting cover, IBM scientists invented a tiny "chisel" with a heatable silicon tip 100,000 times smaller than a sharpened pencil point. Using this nano-sized tip, which creates patterns and structures on a microscopic scale, it took scientists just 10 minutes to etch the magazine cover onto a polymer, the same substance of which plastics are made.

The heated tip of the 3D printing mechanism is 700 nanometers long but just 10 nanometers at its tip. Images: IBM

The resulting magazine cover measures 11 × 14 micrometers, which is actually invisible to the naked eye.

"My idea was to do something similar to chiselling a rock, but just to do it on a nano-scale," said Urs Duerig, a scientist at IBM in Switzerland and one of the inventors of the machine.

In this photo you can see a piece of silicon wafer which is etched at the nanoscale. Image: IBM

How IBM researchers created the cover

The nanometer-sized tip, which can be heated to 1000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit), is attached to a bendable cantilever that controllably scans the surface of the substrate material, in this case a polymer invented by chemists at IBM Research in Almaden, California, with the accuracy of one nanometer—one millionth of a millimeter. By applying heat and force, the tip can remove substrate material based on predefined patterns, thus operating like a "nanomilling" machine or a 3D printer with ultrahigh precision.

Similar to using a 3D printer, more material can be removed to create complex 3D structures with nanometer precision by modulating the force or by readdressing individual spots.

Image: IBM

This new capability may impact the prototyping of new transistor devices, including tunneling field effect transistors, for more energy-efficient and faster electronics for anything from cloud data centers to smartphones. By the end of the year IBM hopes to begin exploring the use of this technology to prototype transistor designs made of graphene like materials.

"To create more energy-efficient clouds and crunch Big Data faster, we need a new generation of technologies including novel transistors. But before we can put these future technologies into mass production, we need new techniques for prototyping below 30 nanometers," said Dr. Armin Knoll, a physicist and inventor at IBM Research. "With our novel technique we can achieve very a high resolution at 10 nanometers at greatly reduced cost and complexity. In particular by controlling the amount of material evaporated, we can also produce 3D relief patterns at the unprecedented accuracy of merely one nanometer in a vertical direction. Now it's up to the imagination of scientists and engineers to apply this technique to real-world challenges."

IBM has licensed this technology to a startup based in Switzerland called SwissLitho, which is bringing the technology to market under the name NanoFrazor. Several weeks ago, the firm shipped its first NanoFrazor to McGill University's Nanotools Microfab in Canada, where scientists and students will use the tool's unique fabrication capabilities to experiment with ideas for designing novel nano-devices. To celebrate the tool's arrival the university created a nano-sized map of Canada measuring 30 micrometers or 0.030 millimeters wide.

"The application range is quite broad," said Felix Holzner, chief executive of SwissLitho. "It's like a 3D printer on a microscopic scale - you can make any structure you want but a million times smaller with this machine."

As opposed to e-beams, which cost from $1.5 million to as much as $30 million, the NanoFrazor costs only around 500,000 euros ($691,500). But they are intended as research tools rather than for use in the production industry, Holzner said.

Scientists envision applications in addition to transistors including nano-sized security tags to prevent the forgery of documents like passports and priceless works of art and in the emerging field of quantum computing. One way to connect quantum systems is via electromagnetic radiation or light. The nano-sized tip could be used to create high-quality patterns to control and manipulate light at unprecedented precision.

National Geographic Kids, which commissioned the project, today claimed its ninth Guinness world record title for the smallest magazine cover in Washington, D.C.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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jd90 wrote at 4/25/2014 6:39:09 PM:

If you called it a 2D printer, you would have been more accurate.

JJ wrote at 4/25/2014 6:19:13 PM:

This is a clear case of using 3D printing as a buzzword to generate press. There is no additive process going on here - they have only demonstrated material removal capability.

Jhon Trulia wrote at 4/25/2014 5:50:46 PM:

This is NOT a 3D printer. Very misleading title.

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