Delicate structures printed
Delicate structures printed by materials scientists at Rice University as seen in microscope images. Sintering turns them into either glass or cristobalite.
Source: Courtesy of the Nanomaterials, Nanomechanics and Nanodevices Lab

Nanoscale lattices flow from 3D printer

Rice University engineers create nanostructures of glass and crystal for electronics, photonics.

Rice materials scientists are creating nanostructures of silica with a sophisticated 3D printer, demonstrating a method to make micro-scale electronic, mechanical and photonic devices from the bottom up. The products can be doped and their crystal structures tuned for various applications.

The study, led by Jun Lou, a professor of materials science and nanoengineering at the George R. Brown School of Engineering, appears in Nature Materials.

The electronics industry is built upon silicon, the basic semiconducting substrate for microprocessors for decades. The Rice study addresses the limitations of top-down manufacturing by turning the process on its head.

"It's very tough to make complicated, three-dimensional geometries with traditional photolithography techniques," Lou said. "It's also not very 'green' because it requires a lot of chemicals and a lot of steps. And even with all that effort, some structures are impossible to make with those methods. In principle, we can print arbitrary 3D shapes, which could be very interesting for making exotic photonic devices. "That's what we're trying to demonstrate."

The lab uses a two-photon polymerization process to print structures with lines only several hundred nanometers wide, smaller than the wavelength of light. Lasers "write" the lines by prompting the ink to absorb two photons, initiating free-radical polymerization of the material.

"Normal polymerization involves polymer monomers and photoinitiators, molecules that absorb light and generate free radicals," said Rice graduate student and co-lead author Boyu Zhang of the process that commonly uses ultraviolet light in 3D printing and to cure coatings and in dental applications.

"In our process, the photoinitiators absorb two photons at the same time, which requires a lot of energy," he said. "Only a very small peak of this energy causes polymerization, and that in only a very tiny space. That's why this process allows us to go beyond the diffraction limit of light."

The printing process required the Rice lab to develop a unique ink. Zhang and co-lead author Xiewen Wen, a Rice alumnus, created resins containing nanospheres of silicon dioxide doped with polyethylene glycol to make them soluble.

After printing, the structure is solidified through high-temperature sintering, which eliminates all the polymer from the product, leaving amorphous glass or polycrystalline cristobalite. "When heated, the material goes through phases from glass to crystal, and the higher the temperature, the more ordered the crystals become," Lou said.

The lab also demonstrated doping the material with various rare earth salts to make the products photoluminescent, an important property for optical applications. The lab's next goal is to refine the process to achieve sub-10 nanometer resolution.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

3D printing nano-ink

3D printing nano-ink

A 3D-printable polymer nanocomposite ink has incredible properties — and many applications in medicine, aerospace, and electronics.

3D printed sensor invented for wearables

3D printed sensor invented for wearables

Researchers have utilized 3D printing and nanotechnology to create a durable, flexible sensor for wearable devices to monitor everything from vital signs to athletic performance.

Voxel-based technique to streamline bioprinting

Voxel-based technique to streamline bioprinting

Researchers have developed a new bioprinting technique based on voxels.

3D printing nanoresonators

3D printing nanoresonators

Researchers illustrated an innovative approach to developing miniaturized and multifunctional sensors.

3D printed copper components for linear accelerators

3D printed copper components for linear accelerators

For the first time, researchers have 3D printed essential quadrupole components for linear accelerators from pure copper.

4D printing: heat shrinks printed objects

4D printing: heat shrinks printed objects

4D printing could be used to produce parts that exhibit a specific behavior only after they take their predefined shape.

Diagnostic for Liquid Metal Jetting 3D printing

Diagnostic for Liquid Metal Jetting 3D printing

A diagnostic tool can determine the quality of metal droplets and monitor Liquid Metal Jetting (LMJ) prints in real-time.

Neutrons detect defects in 3D printed components

Neutrons detect defects in 3D printed components

Researchers have examined common methods used to locate defects inside components.

Self-powered wearable devices

Self-powered wearable devices

Scientists have created a 3D printing method that integrates functional and structural materials to print wearable.

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter