Aug 9, 2016 | By Tess

It’s been an exciting week for those interested in the field of nanoscale 3D printing. Just yesterday we reported on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s recent advancement within the field through using simulation to make FEBID 3D printing more precise than ever. Now, another research team, this time from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, has developed a novel method for creating specialized Atomic force microscopy (AFM) probes using 3D direct laser writing and two-photon polymerization.

Atomic force microscopy, also known as AFM or scanning-force microscopy, is a scanning method used for the analysis of atomic scale surfaces. The technique, which works by using a probe or sharp tip placed at the end of a cantilever which senses and scans the topography of the microscopic samples, typically has a resolution of fractions of a nanometer. And while the AFM technique has existed and been used for over 3 decades, making specialized or custom probes has remained a difficult and expensive process.

The research conducted by the KIT team, which will be published in this week’s Applied Physics Letters journal, demonstrates how 3D printing technologies can be used to create specialized or custom probes in a much more efficient manner than before. Specifically, the researchers have devised a method that uses 3D direct laser writing based on two-photon polymerization, a 3D printing process capable of creating structures with extremely high resolutions. Essentially, two-photon polymerization uses an extremely focused femtosecond laser which exposes an ultraviolet-light-curable photoresist material. This exposure results in a two-photon adsorption which itself results in a polymerization reaction, or a 3D network.

Hendrik Hölscher, head of the scanning probe technologies group at KIT, said of the project: “This concept isn’t new at the macroscopic scale: you can freely design any shape with your computer and print it in 3D. But at the nanoscale, this approach is complex. To write our tips, we applied two-photon polymerization with an experimental setup, recently developed at KIT, which is now available from startup company Nanoscribe GmbH.” Nanoscribe GmbH, as we know, is one of the pioneering forces behind the development of nanoscale 3D printing technologies. The company, which was founded in 2007, is actually a spin-off from a research group from KIT.

As mentioned, the specialized probes made with the 3D direct laser writing method can have radii as tiny as 25 nanometers (to put that into perspective, a human hair’s diameter is about 3,000 times bigger than that), and can be attached to any standard or more traditionally manufactured micromachined cantilevers. Additionally, according to the team’s tests and findings, the 3D printed AFM probes have demonstrated durability, low wear rates, and a high level of reliability. Hölscher adds that the new specialized probes can also be tuned for multi-frequency applications by simply adding and adjusting reinforcing structures to the cantilever structure.

The two-photon polymerization method for manufacturing nanoscale AFM probes is a significant advancement within the field that could open the possibilities for analyzing atomic scale surfaces and samples at even higher resolutions. According to the KIT researchers, their technique will soon become widely available to nanotechnology researchers and projects. Hölscher even predicts that their technology could inspire an online service, where people could digitally design and order their specialized AFM probes through a website.

Until then, the KIT researchers will continue to work on and develop their technique and extend its applications into other fields, such as biomimetics, optics, and photonics.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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