Scientists at IBM Research in Zurich have created a magazine cover which is so small you will never be able to read it or even see it. It is such a tiny cover that it could fit into a grain of sand for as many as 2,000 times. The Zurich team has been using a certain new type of microscopic 3D printer to make it all happen.
The magazine cover was unveiled during last week’s USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. The Guinness Book of Records attended the event and confirmed that this really is the smallest magazine cover that has even been made. It is a 11×14-micrometre image of the magazine National Geographic Kids.
Above you can see two pictures of the kids magazine’s cover. The right picture is the image of the original cover and left you can see the 3D printed version, which of course is magnified here massively. Normally you can’t even see the image properly with a microscope. Kids, the readers of the magazine, were able to choose between five magazine covers to become the smallest one in the world. And the koala’s were the ones to make it. Sweet.
This magazine cover was created using a very special nano-printer. This 3D printer however has a little different approach to 3D printing than regular printers. While normal printers use layer-by-layer techniques to print an object, this printer actually vaporizes the 3D printing material, which was a polymer.
The scientists have therefore created a silicon tip (pictured above), which was heated by 1,000 degrees celsius. The tip was 100,000 times smaller than a sharpened pencil point. They used the lighting of the pixels of the original image to provide for the relievo of the 3D printed version. It then took the machine only 10 minutes to create this small magazine cover.
Of course there’s not really a market for such small magazine covers in this world, and as you might expect, the new 3D printed has a different purpose than printing out magazine covers. While this was only a fun example of its capabilities, the team at IBM Research thinks the machine can be useful to create prototypes in a quicker and more accurate way than it’s been done today. The University of McGill in Canada is already using the machine and they have bought it from SwissLitho, a Swiss startup, which has been licensed by IBM to sell the machine under the name NanoFrazer.
However, there’s little chance one of us would ever be able to buy this vaporizing 3D printer for ourselves. The printer, which is so small it can fit on a desktop, costs as much as half a million dollars. And that’s quite a difference in pricing to the rising wave of cheap consumer 3D printers of today.
Credits images: IBM Research/ National Geographic Kids (1), IBM Research (2).