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MIT develops incredible system to ‘shrink’ objects

connectVideoMIT develops system to ‘shrink’ objects

The MIT researchers have developed a system to ‘shrink’ of objects to a nano-level using 3-D printing techniques.

Researchers from MIT have developed a system to “reduce” objects to a nano-level.

Although this may conjure up images of “Ant-Man” or “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids,” it’s actually a 3-D printing technique that can be useful in areas such as medicine, robotics, and optics.

“It is a way to make almost any type of material in a 3-D-pattern with nano-precision,” said Edward Boyden, an associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, in a statement.

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The researchers used a technique they describe as “implosion fabrication” 3-D print objects on the nanoscale. Their work builds on an existing technique developed at the Boyden laboratory for high-resolution images of the brain tissue.

This image shows a complex structure prior to shrinking. Daniel (Oran)

“This technique, known as expansion microscopy, involves the embedding of tissue in a hydrogel, and then to expand, allowing for high-resolution images with an ordinary microscope,” said MIT in a statement. “By the reversal of this process, the researchers found that they could create large-scale objects embedded in extended hydrogels and then shrinking them to the nanoscale.”

Similar to their research on expansion microscopy, the researchers made use of a highly absorbent material made of polyacrylate, which is usually found in the diapers, as the “scaffolding” for their abroad process. This was immersed in a solution containing molecules of fluorescein, a compound widely used as dye. When activated by a laser light, the molecules attached to the “scaffold.”

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The use of two-photon microscopy, the fluorescein molecules were attached to specific locations in the gel. “You attach the brackets where you want to with light, and later, you can confirm what you want to the anchors,” said Boyden. “It can be a quantum dot, it is possible to a piece of DNA, it would be a gold nanoparticle.”

A paper on the research was published in the journal Science.

“It’s a bit like film, photography — and a latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to the light,” said Daniel Oran, an MIT student, and one of the paper lead authors, in a statement. “Then, you can develop the latent image in an image, by a different material, silver, afterwards. In this way, the implosion of manufacture makes a variety of structures, including gradients, not to structures and multimaterial patterns,”

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Scientists say they can reduce the size of objects to 10-fold in each dimension, making a total 1000-fold reduction in volume.

“As soon as the desired molecules are connected to the correct locations, have the researchers, the contraction of the entire structure by adding an acid,” says MIT in its statement.

The use of the technique, the researchers say that they can create objects that are approximately 1 cubic millimeter, patterns with a resolution of 50 nanometers. “There is a compromise between size and resolution: If the researchers want to create larger objects, approximately 1 cubic centimeter, they can achieve a resolution of about 500 nanometres,” they said. However, improvements to the process can, ultimately, boost resolution.

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The system can be particularly useful for the creation of specialized lenses for the likes of mobile phones, microscopes and endoscopes, according to the scientists involved in the project.

“There are all kinds of things that you can do with this,” explained Boyden, noting that the technology needed is already in many laboratories of the research. “With a laser, you can already find in many biology laboratories, you can scan a pattern, then depositing metals, semiconductors, or DNA, and then reduce,” he added.

The system is just the latest innovation to come out of MIT. In a separate MIT project, the researchers have been developing advanced technology that uses drones to find lost hikers by searching under the dense forest canopies.

In August, scientists at MIT announced the discovery of a cluster of galaxies that they say is “hiding in plain sight.”

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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