Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have pioneered a nanoscale metal 3D printing technique that surpasses current methods in both speed and affordability. This breakthrough, detailed in the journal Advanced Materials, introduces a scalable solution capable of transforming a field traditionally hindered by expensive and slow technologies.
The team, led by Assistant Professor Sourabh Saha and Ph.D. student Jungho Choi, achieved a printing technique for metal nanostructures that is an impressive 480 times faster and 35 times cheaper than conventional methods. The process, termed nanopatterning, is vital for various technologies, including electronic devices, solar energy conversion, sensors, and more.
Challenging the conventional belief that high-intensity femtosecond lasers are essential for nanoscale printing, Saha and Choi explored alternatives. They opted for superluminescent light emitting diodes (SLEDs), emitting light a billion times less intense than femtosecond lasers. The researchers ingeniously designed a projection-style printing technology that converts digital images into optical images, demonstrating sharper focus and faster production.
Utilizing a clear ink solution infused with metal salt, the researchers created a chemical reaction when exposed to the superluminescent light. This reaction transformed the salt solution into metal, forming nanostructures on the glass surface. Notably, the projection-style printing enables the creation of entire structures in one step, a stark contrast to point-by-point methods, significantly enhancing efficiency.
“I think the metrics of cost and speed have been greatly undervalued in the scientific community that works on fabrication and manufacturing of tiny structures,” said Saha.
“In the real world, these metrics are important when it comes to translating discoveries from the lab to industry. Only when we have manufacturing techniques that take these metrics into account will we be able to fully leverage nanotechnology for societal benefit.”
With the SLEDs costing around $3,000, the researchers aim to democratize nanoscale 3D printing, making it accessible beyond top-tier universities with expensive technologies. The potential applications span across electronics, optics, and plasmonics, offering a low-cost solution for researchers and small businesses alike.
You can read the full research paper, titled “Scalable Printing of Metal Nanostructures through Superluminescent Light Projection” at this link.
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