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Low-Cost Micromachine Writes Calligraphy With Atoms

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the micro-machines-have-sure-improved-since-i-was-a-kid dept.

Science 40

ckwu writes "Scientists at Boston University have put together an inexpensive microelectromechanical machine that can direct atoms onto a surface in a controlled manner (abstract). The device—which acts as a moving stencil—can lay down such precise, complex patterns that the technique is akin to writing with atoms, the researchers say. They've used the machine to draw rings and infinity symbols out of gold atoms, but the technique should be compatible with almost any material."

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Cool Factor (1)

chinton (151403) | about a year ago | (#44181761)

That sounds so much cooler than the Star Wars Micromachines I had when I was a kid...

Re:Cool Factor (1)

chispito (1870390) | about a year ago | (#44182985)

That sounds so much cooler than the Star Wars Micromachines I had when I was a kid...

Does it actually say "Micro Machines?" I would suggest that, otherwise, it's not the real thing.

what impact has this on lithography (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181819)

what impact has this on lithography and semiconductors industry?

Re:what impact has this on lithography (1)

boristdog (133725) | about a year ago | (#44181893)

what impact has this on lithography and semiconductors industry?

None, until it is scalable to do millions of lines at once.

already done by someone else better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181839)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dip-pen_nanolithography

Was pioneered by a Northwestern professor years ago. He is the world's foremost expert on nanotechnology and the most cited living scientist (also one of the most cited scientists, dead or alive)

Re:already done by someone else better (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about a year ago | (#44181935)

I think the story is low cost/inexpensive. Though I suspect that may be in relative term.

Re:already done by someone else better (4, Funny)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#44182115)

I think the story is low cost/inexpensive.

Low cost? Have you seen the prices for atomic refill cartridges for this thing? And you thought ink jet ink was overpriced!

Re:already done by someone else better (1)

idunham (2852899) | about a year ago | (#44182481)

From the fine article:

The micromachines don't cost much to make, Bishop says. The scientists order the polysilicon plates from a commercial foundry at low cost and then use a focused ion beam to pierce the nanosized holes in the plates. The micromachines are so cheap, Bishop says, that the team can experiment with one, throw it out, and "go get another clean one--for a dollar or two."

Also news is that it can draw shapes with holes.

Re:already done by someone else better (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#44185393)

Jeez, RTFA much? This can write with anything that's vaporizable; dip-pen nanolithography is limited to liquid inks. It's mentioned by name in the story.

Everybody welcome petabytes or more on USB sticks. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181885)

First implication comes to my mind is data storage. Since we can move atoms the way we want we can shape them to store info. That means we can have DNA/Brain efficiency or more to store data.

Re: Everybody welcome petabytes or more on USB sti (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181923)

I forgot to log in. For any reply or feedback: yasart@gmail.com

Re:Everybody welcome petabytes or more on USB stic (2)

Joshua Fan (1733100) | about a year ago | (#44185163)

We come back full circle to punch cards.

Re:Everybody welcome petabytes or more on USB stic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44185591)

Really?
The first thing I thought of was "this will be HUGE for 3d printing."
Now that you mention it, I would love to print out my own USB sticks at whatever size I want!

Cool. (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about a year ago | (#44181907)

It's only a matter of time and effort until we have a live-action nano-scale version of Minecraft.

One Step Closer (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#44181911)

To the ability of rearranging protons and neutrons on a nucleus.

Re:One Step Closer (2)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a year ago | (#44182093)

Sure, all they have to do is scale it down further a few orders of magnitude. Easy Peasy.

Re:One Step Closer (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#44197407)

One has to start somewhere, considering that those who started used sticks and rocks to separate stuff out of the soil and arrange it into things like buildings, and can openers.

Re:One Step Closer (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182737)

Uhh, this is on the micron level. Atoms are closer to 1 nanometer. 1 micron = 1000 nanometers.

Still 1000x too big.

Re:One Step Closer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44186139)

And not to mention the forces involved in manipulating individual protons and neutrons are at least a hundred times as strong as electromagnetism. Why do you suppose all those positively-charged protons still clump together in an atomic nucleus even though like electric charges should repel? It isn't called the strong nuclear force for nothing.

Re:One Step Closer (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#44197465)

What a hell of an intriguing question; worth a trip to Stockholm for a small bag of chocolates, and a prize.

Picotechnology (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about a year ago | (#44182127)

And so it begins.

Printing 3D structures on an atomic (or even molecular) will make current 3D printing tech look like play-dough. Scale this up, and even printing food isn't too inconceivable.

Re:Picotechnology (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#44182187)

why bother to print, most food is made of cells, they can be grown. you won't be assembling cells in your printer.

Re:Picotechnology (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about a year ago | (#44182471)

Eventually, it'll be more of a case of why you wouldn't want to. If you can print ANYTHING on an atomic scale, easily, you might as well as food to that list. Advantages also include:

a: Potentially much quicker to produce and more plentiful.
b: Reclaiming all the world's farmland back.
c: Printing foods which are unique in texture and taste to anything we have today.
d: Printing food in climates with little rain or sun.
e: ...and from the comfort of your own home without going to the supermarket.
f: Perfect reproducibility; making sure your favourite food/drink will not be discontinued by fickle market forces.

I'm sure you can think of a few others to add to that list.

Re:Picotechnology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182599)

a: Potentially much quicker to produce and more plentiful.

That is kind of a big assumption that this would be that fast, even in the distant future, especially when we may have other faster options like engineered lifeforms that could grow more complicated foods from culture or some other self-assembled system instead of a printing mechanism.

Re:Picotechnology (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about a year ago | (#44183211)

A lifeform is essentially a printer, or a mechanical machine, just a very advanced one. But it is how it is only thanks to evolution. And evolution's goal isn't always to create the biggest mass as quickly as possible, and even if it was, it is hampered by energy concerns, and the need to be self-reproducing. If we had practically limitless energy and a targeted goal without the messiness of evolution, who knows what we may achieve.

Re:Picotechnology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44185607)

I'm sorry but mitosis is nothing like printing. Can you try that again in a car analogy?

Re:Picotechnology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44188333)

A lifeform is essentially a printer, or a mechanical machine

Yes, if you assuming "to print" is so general as to mean "to make or assemble" in general, then yeah, all of your claims would be easy to meet as pretty much any technology, including many today, would fit such a description.

And evolution's goal isn't always to create the biggest mass as quickly as possible

Hence the qualifier "engineered", as it not created by evolution but by human design. Other technologies will continue to advance. Even currently, self-assembly chemistry is showing potential for production processes unrivaled by previous piece by piece or mechanical assembly, because of the ability to run so much in parallel in a very small volume or area.

Re:Picotechnology (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#44184285)

you don't understand, it's one thing to stick an atom on a substrate. it's quite another to make the various kinds of bonds that tie atoms together in chemicals and living things. most of those can't be done one at a time, the bonds only can be made by atoms already in complicated bonds with others. the proteins in a cell, and the way they fold and bind is exceedingly complex, supercomputers run for days to model such reactions.

Re:Picotechnology (3, Informative)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about a year ago | (#44182445)

If it takes one second to print a square nanometer, then printing a whole square meter will take 10^18 seconds, that's more than 3x 10^8 years which is 300 million years. Then you need many, many layers to make e.g. a thin crust pizza.

Of course, maybe it can be faster, maybe you can use ten thousands nanoprinters/picoprinters in parallel or more but that's the main objection I have for now about printing macro objects on the nano scale. I do realize the existence of regular food means the concept isn't totally unworkable, it gives an indication of the "scale up" factor as well. How many millions, billions or trillions of cells are involved in making a grain of rice or an egg?, I have no clearly accurate idea.

Re:Picotechnology (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about a year ago | (#44182541)

That exponential growth you speak of reminds me of something to with computer memory and CPU speed. Single digits growing to trillions - I wonder if that could happen in reality.

Re:Picotechnology (1)

mdielmann (514750) | about a year ago | (#44185679)

Yep, printing food is a bad idea. Until you have a von Neumann machine, the big point is to use it to make a von Neumann machine. Once you're there, the exponential benefits of transistor design can be realized on the macro scale. Then making a pizza becomes a trivial process. Of course, then the big trick is not turning the whole world into pizzas.

The ultimate 3d printer (2)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | about a year ago | (#44182175)

Instead of waiting 5 hours to print your Yoda head, you can print it in mere decades.

The upside, you won't have layer lines, and you can choose materials other than PLA and ABS.

Re:The ultimate 3d printer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44185873)

Every mole, hair and rubber mould release line in perfect detail. It would be worth it.

Doesn't sound too hot. (1)

lxs (131946) | about a year ago | (#44182253)

I own a ballpoint pen that writes with a mixture of ions and molecules. It's made by Bic. The same company also makes tiny portable plasma generators called lighters.

Low cost (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about a year ago | (#44182629)

Since this is low cost, can it replace some of the calligraphers that the White House hires (at over $270K per year)?

Neither atomic nor really new. (1)

bellylaugh (1123123) | about a year ago | (#44184997)

It's an interesting machine, with it's shutter. Here's a direct link to the paper: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1304/1304.1334.pdf [arxiv.org] I hate exaggeration in sci news, (50 nm)^3 is a minimum spot size of about 10,000,000 atoms, or 50,000 of atoms if they do a single atom thick deposition. Also, Standard FIBs can already deposit gold and other things using a deposition gas injector, with similar resolution and speed, and no aperture to clog. A Russian group drew images of characters in a similar way in 2006, with apertures, with the same resolution. ("Atom 'Pinhole Camera' with Nanometer Resolution" [Russian translation: actually a pinhole lithographic projector], V.I.Balykin et al, link: www.researchgate.net/publication/226645891_Atom_pinhole_camera_with_nanometer_resolution/file/d912f50a8a891ad5e2.pdf)

Patents (1)

AnuradhaRatnaweera (757812) | about a year ago | (#44185945)

And 10 years later, Slashdot will report that the Boston University is suing, again [slashdot.org] .

Low cost??? (1)

Guillaume Gay (2973097) | about a year ago | (#44187157)

Well it is, as long as you've got (free) access to a Focused Ion Beam... Problem his that kind of hardware costs something like a million euro...

Re:Low cost??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44188283)

yes but a cell phone that small will be easily lost and you'll have to keep buying a new one.

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