Materials scientists at Rice University 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. Weaving intricate, microscopic patterns of crystal or glass is now possible. The 3D printer can also create 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, has been published 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 iusing a 3D printer.
“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,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to demonstrate.”