Dr. Ed Boyden Pioneers Method For 3D Printing Nanoscale Objects

What They Did: A team led by NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator, MIT Professor of Neurotechnology, and Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences Dr. Ed Boyden has developed a new method—called “implosion fabrication”—for creating 3D nanoscale objects of nearly any shape.

Why It Matters: Implosion fabrication improves upon previous processes for generating 3D nanostructures and uses materials many labs already have, making it an accessible and advantageous tool. Its applications include the creation specialty lenses to study properties of light or develop better cell phone, microscope, and endoscope cameras. It could also be applied to nanoscale robotics or electronics.

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Dr. Ed Boyden is thinking small. The NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator, Professor of Neurotechnology, and Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT has recently developed a new tool called “implosion fabrication” which allows scientists to 3D print nanoscale objects. The method, published in Science, will have applications in optics, medicine, robotics, and other research areas.

Implosion fabrication is the opposite of another one of Dr. Boyden’s revolutionary technologies: expansion microscopy. In expansion microscopy, researchers inflate samples of tissue to a size that’s easier to study by weaving a certain polymer through the sample and adding water, expanding the polymer and pulling apart the tissue’s biomolecules.

In implosion fabrication, the opposite happens. A scaffold made of similar polymer is bathed in a solution containing molecules called fluorescein, which scientists can attach to the scaffold with laser lights. These fluorescein molecules then act as anchors that bind to whichever substance the researchers attach to the scaffold (like DNA or gold nanoparticles). Then the researchers add a certain acid that causes the entire structure to shrink 10-fold in each dimension without distorting its patterns.

While researchers have already developed methods for creating 3D nanostructures, these methods carry several limitations: they are slow, difficult to execute, only work for certain materials, and can only generate self-supporting structures. Implosion fabrication, however, allows scientists to create many different types of structures (chains, spheres, etc.) from a wide array of materials in a more efficient manner.

Notably, implosion fabrication is also convenient. It relies on materials and equipment many labs will already have readily accessible, making the method easy to implement for labs across a variety of fields.

“With a laser you can already find in many biology labs, you can scan a pattern, then deposit metals, semiconductors, or DNA, and then shrink it down,” said Dr. Boyden in an article from MIT.

Creating nanoscale objects will have many applications—from creating better lenses for phones, microscopes, and endoscopes to aiding in the development of nanoscale robotics. It could also be used to investigate the fundamental properties of light or create miniature electronic chips. Dr. Boyden is optimistic that implosion fabrication will open the door for countless wide-reaching advancements.

“There are all kinds of things you can do with this,” remarked Dr. Boyden. “Democratizing nanofabrication could open up frontiers we can’t yet imagine.”

Journal citation:

3D nanofabrication by volumetric deposition and controlled shrinkage of patterned scaffolds
Oran, Daniel et. Al. Science. 2018.
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5119

Diseases & Conditions:

Neurotechnologies

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