Nanotechnology Printer On The Horizon

Desktop printers are advancing in revolutionary ways, from 3-D printers that could in principle help manufacture robots at home to cell-placing biotechnological machines that researchers hope could one day fabricate organs on demand. Now scientists are developing a desktop system to create nanosized devices whose parts are just molecules in size, potentially unshackling such inventions from the multibillion-dollar foundries currently required to make them.

Working at scales on the order of billionths of a meter could lead to circuitry far more powerful than modern electronics, as well as devices that incorporate biomolecules to, for instance, analyze genes.

Nanotechnology Printer On The HorizonDecentralizing nanosciences

Currently, most nanofabrication is carried out in multibillion-dollar foundries, but researchers have long sought to create a desktop tool that decreases manufacturing time and cost.

“The key idea here is best explained by analogy to printed documents,” says Chad Mirkin, director of Northwestern University’s International Institute for Nanotechnology in Evanston, Ill. “Many documents, books, newspapers and the like are printed in centralized facilities. Consider how the desktop printer changed information transfer by allowing one to rapidly generate documents as needed and at the point of use. Our work is designed to take nanofabrication out of the foundry and on to the desktop.”


Mirkin and his colleagues have invented a system slightly larger than a printer that can produce working electronic circuits. His lab even used it to produce a map of the world with nanoscale resolution that is large enough to see with the naked eye.

“This methodology could lead to true desktop nanofabrication, a longstanding goal in the nanoscience community,” Mirkin says.


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