Multiple technological revolutions have started when devices previously requiring large spaces were shrunk down to fight on top of our desks. Computers and printers have already demonstrated this and 3D printers likely will in the coming years, but what is next? Researchers at Northwestern University have recently built a desktop printer capable of fabricating devices at the macro, micro, and nanoscale.
To create the chips we rely on in our computers, massive and expensive foundries had to be built to churn them out using a lithography technique. The Northwestern printer also uses a lithography technique, but a different one called beam-pen lithography (BPL). This method uses a micromirror device, like what is found in some projectors, to split and send a beam of light to an array of polymeric pyramids with 100 nm apertures at their tips. This allows the printer to create any pattern desired quite rapidly, as opposed to the equipment used at foundries which rely on master plates. The material being printed to is a substrate with photosensitive materials coated on it called resists.
To test the printer, the researchers fabricated a map of the world large enough to view with the naked eye, but a microscope can reveal its nanometer precision. As the components of the printer are already easily accessible, the researchers predict it could be commercialized in as little as two years.
Source: Northwestern University