While some claim “bigger is better,” researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that when it comes to tech, smaller items are far more impressive. MIT researches announced this month that they invented a way to shrink objects to nanoscale – even smaller than what you can view with a microscope – by using a laser. Further meaning, any simple structure can be reduced to one 1,000th of its original size.
The technology, called “implosion fabrication,” is capable of being applied to a range of things, including developing smaller microscopes, cell phone lenses, and maybe even creating tiny robots that improve everyday life.
“People have been trying to invent better equipment to make smaller nanomaterials for years,” said neurotechnology professor Edward Boyden, the lead researcher, in a statement. “There are all kinds of things you can do with this.”
Scientists are looking into possible ways of adding tiny robotic particles to cancer drugs that can seek out the cancerous cells strictly. MIT says we can all forget microchips, as the technology could be used to develop even smaller “nanochip” electronics.
“Here’s how it works: Using a laser, researchers make a structure with absorbent gel — akin to writing with a pen in 3D. Then, they can attach any material — metal, DNA, or tiny “quantum dot” particles — to the structure,” CNN reports. “Finally, they shrink the structure to a miniscule size.”
“It’s a bit like film photography,” explained graduate student researcher Daniel Oran. “A latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light. Then, you can develop that latent image into a real image by attaching another material, silver, afterwards.”
The project began in 2014 when he and graduate student Samuel Rodriques, who has a background in physics, decided to collaborate. The pair discovered the method by reversing a familiar technique, which was originally developed by Boyden to enlarge images of brain tissue. Called “expansion microscopy,” that process involves injecting a material into a gel, which makes it larger and more easier to view.
The researchers were able to create nanosized objects by doing the reverse. Similar laser techniques could previously only make two dimensional structures, while other methods for shrinking 3D objects were much slower and more difficult to perform in most labs.
“Normally, nanotechnology uses very expensive technology and requires sterile rooms … but we didn’t have to do that because of this scaffold that we used which protects the materials,” Rodriques said.
Though it may be hard to imagine, the researchers believe this technology could become easily accessible in the future. “It’s pretty hard to imagine right now all the things we can make with this,” Rodriques said.