Zurich (Switzerland) – Researchers at IBM's Zurich Research Lab have demonstrated a nanoscale printing technology which is believed to yield much higher resolution than traditional offset printers.
IBM claims that its nanoscale printer can print particles as small as 60 nm, which is about 100 times smaller than a human red blood cell, according to the company. This resolution would translate into a 100,000 dots-per-inch (dpi) printer, as compared to the common 1200 and 1500 dpi offset printers - which typically generate particles with sizes of 10,000 nm and more - available today.
The technology may not work as a replacement for photo printers in the near future, but IBM believes that the technology will see applications in the fabrication of nanowires for future mass-produced microchips as well as biomedicine. In this specific case, this printing process could, for example, be applied to the printing of large arrays of biofunctional beads that can detect and identify certain cells or markers in the body. One example could be rapid screening for cancer cells or heart attack markers, IBM said.
Nanoparticles can also interact with light, according to the company. Optical materials with new properties could be printed, for example, for use in optoelectronic devices, IBM said: "So-called 'metamaterials' could be created in which the printed structures are as small as the wavelength of the light and therefore act as if they were a single lens with unusual properties," the company stated.
In contrast to traditional (semiconductor) printing, usually referred to as gravure printing, the nanoscale printing process does not fill an image which has been etched into a metal surface with ink, but rather uses a self-assembly process to control the arrangement of tiny nanoparticles.
To prove that the technology works, IBM created a sample image resembling Robert Fludd’s 17th-century image of the sun: 20,000 gold particles, each about 60 nm in diameter, were "swept" across a surface and "convective forces in the liquid push the particles into grooves in the surface, forming nanostructures with a well-defined geometry," IBM explained. Down the road, IBM scientists believe that this method will enable them to place particles as small as 2 nm in diameter to fabricate atomic scale nanowires, ultra tiny lenses for optics and biosensors for healthcare.
IBM did not say when the technology could be commercially available.