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MIT researchers have devised a way to use origami-like folding to create 3D structures, which may allow the creation of 3D nanocircuits.  (Source: Nader Shaar)

The MIT team shows off a bit, etching their school's initials into two faces of a 800 micron cube, under assembly.  (Source: Nader Shaar)
Unusual assembly technique may create future 3D circuits

Two of the hottest fields in computer research are nanoelectronics and 3D circuits.  A new project from MIT looks to use a novel origami-like construction technique to meld these fields, creating miniature 3D circuit elements.

George Barbastathis, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, has led a team which has devised a folding method which can fold nanoscale polymeric sheets into a multitude of devices.  Professor Barbastathis envisions folded 3D structures being used in motors and capacitors, potentially leading to better computer memory storage, faster microprocessors and new nanophotonic devices.

Previously assembly techniques primarily focused on 2D, using X-ray lithography and nano-imprinting to create patterns which are combined to build microprocessors and other micro-electrical-mechanical (MEMS) devices.  Tony Nichol, a graduate student on the project, describes, "A lot of what's done now is planar.  We want to take all of the nice tools that have been developed for 2-D and do 3-D things."

Folding allows for better electrical storage, such as the storage of charges in the human brain, as well as more complex structures.  The team in 2005 created a 3D nanocapacitor with a single fold, but while the capacitor was a significant technical advance, it could store little charge.  By devising new folding techniques, the team hopes to remedy this lack.

One folding technique is to deposit chromium or other metal ions onto a fold crease.  This technique is good at making materials curl upward, but is poor at making right angles.  Another method involves using a beam of helium ions.  High energy beams accumulate on the top of the sheet, causing it to fold down, while low energy beams reach the bottom of the surface causing it to fold up.  This is one technique to produce almost-right angles.

Another technique which creates angles close to right angles is to run a gold nanowire along the desired crease.  Applying a small current to this nanowire causes Lorentz force, which lifts the face.  This technique is an example of a method that could allow for dynamic self-assembly.

For the folded material, researchers have tested silicon, silicon nitride (a type of ceramic) and a soft polymer known as SU-8.

Once folded, the remaining challenge is to perfectly seal the faces together, to create designs like cubes or pyramids.  Two methods have been previously devised, one using magnets and the other using polymers on the folded faces, which are melted with an electric current at the ideal time to seal the faces together.

A third method was just recently devised by graduate student Nader Shaar, which involves matching a set of protrusions from a face to a series of holes in another face.  While the "art" of developing these nanostructures is still in the final stages of being perfected, researchers are already cooking up applications.  States Mr. Nichol, "We've got the core components figured out, and now we're just having fun with figuring out some applications."

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By LRonaldHubbs on 3/4/2009 10:06:00 PM , Rating: 3

While this likely holds promise as they are eventually able to shrink things down, neither of the example images depict nanoscale work. Nanoscale is defined as anything less than 100nm (.1 micron), and the sheets shown here are hundreds of microns on an edge. Even the thickness of the sheets appears to be about 10 micron.

The fact that every article I found on Google contains these same two images tells me that they probably haven't achieved actual nano-folding yet, or at least have not done anything photo-worthy.

RE: nanoscale?
By CollegeTechGuy on 3/4/2009 10:45:16 PM , Rating: 2
I had to go look some things up, but your right. The scales given are 500 and 200 microns, not nearly small enough to be a nanometer. I wonder if they are referring to the actual process of folding to be done on the nano scale. So the process of making the crease is done on the nano scale even though the object being folded is on the micron scale.

RE: nanoscale?
By Dreifort on 3/5/2009 9:53:30 AM , Rating: 3
"Why does he keep going into our closet?"
"Why do you keep going into our closet?"
"To get my clothes - but that's not why he goes in there!"
"Of course not, he's twice your size - your clothes would never fit him!"
"Think before you ask these questions, Mitch! Twenty points higher than me? Thinks a big guy like that can wear his clothes?"

RE: nanoscale?
By Smartless on 3/5/2009 2:43:23 PM , Rating: 3
I like the...

"I want to see more of you in the lab."

"Fine I'll gain weight."

This work is much cooler in my opinion
By Tiamat on 3/5/2009 4:31:30 AM , Rating: 3
Make something we can all associate with, like this:


A neat movie depicting how the origami works:


By Clauzii on 3/5/2009 8:39:28 PM , Rating: 2
I'd say Leongs effort would be worth a whole Year of scolarship. But ok, $400 is better than nothing.

not particularly original
By mendicant98 on 3/6/2009 4:12:54 PM , Rating: 2
The folding of microstructures has been central to the work of Kris Pister at Berkeley for well over ten years.

The novelty in this work lies in:
-- the use of polymers;
-- the creation of a nanowire at the corners of the folds;
-- the use of wires at the corners of the folds, to fuse/seal the structures along the folds (but: why would one want to do this?);

I didn't read any intent of making nanoscale 3D cubes; maybe I missed it.

MIT - get real
By chrisld on 3/5/2009 2:36:44 PM , Rating: 1
As a scientist it is rather irritating to see MIT come out with a new super claim every week. When you look closely you always see that the work is often not new, not interesting and certainly not of any commercial use. Nice job MIT. How about putting more effort into good science and less into PR?

The hard part about science is not messing around with cool stuff. The hard part is finding a worthwhile area to work in and producing stuff that can be used.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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