The recreation of Robert Fludd's 17th century drawing of the Sun – the alchemists’ symbol for gold -- was created by precisely placing 20,000 gold particles  (Source: IBM)

TOP: The traditional printing method known as "gravure printing." BOTTOM: IBM's novel new nano printing method.  (Source: IBM)
IBM prints world's smallest art at 100,000 dpi

The printing press is one of the most important inventions of our age. Although many are moving closer toward digital rather than printed medium, some researchers are finding ways to carry the printing concept to a new level.

Researchers from IBM and ETH Zurich have demonstrated a new technique to “print” at the nanoscale, yielding the world’s current smallest piece of art. Rather than just lending the technology to legal departments to write even smaller tinyprint, the more important application of this invention could apply to nanoscale production.

“In traditional gravure printing, a doctor blade is used to fill the recessed features of a printing plate with ink, in which pigment particles are randomly dispersed,” explains Tobias Kraus, of the nanopatterning team in Zurich. “In our high-resolution printing, a directed self-assembly process controls the arrangement of nanoparticles on the printing plate or template. The entire assembly is then printed onto a target surface, whereby the particle positions are precisely retained at a resolution that is three orders of magnitude higher than in conventional printing.”

Current, standard methods of top-down micro-fabrication involve carving particles out of a larger material. The new printing process differs by adding ready-made nanoparticles onto a surface and allows for different types of materials such as metals, polymers, semiconductors, and oxides to be combined in one process.

Using the printing process, researchers were able to demonstrate particles as tiny as 60nm, reaching a translated resolution of 100,000 dpi.

The new method by IBM and ETH Zurich could be applied to printing of large arrays of biofunctional beads that can detect and identify certain cells or markers in the body, such as cancer cells or heart attack markers.

The printed nanoparticles can also interact with light, creating a use in optoelectronic devices like optical chips. For future semiconductor use, the printing process could aid placement of catalytic seed particles for growing semiconducting nanowires.

“This method opens up new ways to precisely and efficiently position various kinds of nanoparticles on different surfaces, a prerequisite for exploiting the unique properties of such nanoparticles and for making their use economically feasible,” explains Heiko Wolf, researcher in nanopatterning at IBM’s Zurich Research lab.

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins
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