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Science Technology

Low-Cost Micromachine Writes Calligraphy With Atoms 40

ckwu writes "Scientists at Boston University have put together an inexpensive microelectromechanical machine that can direct atoms onto a surface in a controlled manner (abstract). The device—which acts as a moving stencil—can lay down such precise, complex patterns that the technique is akin to writing with atoms, the researchers say. They've used the machine to draw rings and infinity symbols out of gold atoms, but the technique should be compatible with almost any material."
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Low-Cost Micromachine Writes Calligraphy With Atoms

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  • That sounds so much cooler than the Star Wars Micromachines I had when I was a kid...
    • That sounds so much cooler than the Star Wars Micromachines I had when I was a kid...

      Does it actually say "Micro Machines?" I would suggest that, otherwise, it's not the real thing.

  • First implication comes to my mind is data storage. Since we can move atoms the way we want we can shape them to store info. That means we can have DNA/Brain efficiency or more to store data.

  • It's only a matter of time and effort until we have a live-action nano-scale version of Minecraft.

  • To the ability of rearranging protons and neutrons on a nucleus.
    • Sure, all they have to do is scale it down further a few orders of magnitude. Easy Peasy.
      • One has to start somewhere, considering that those who started used sticks and rocks to separate stuff out of the soil and arrange it into things like buildings, and can openers.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Uhh, this is on the micron level. Atoms are closer to 1 nanometer. 1 micron = 1000 nanometers.

      Still 1000x too big.

  • And so it begins.

    Printing 3D structures on an atomic (or even molecular) will make current 3D printing tech look like play-dough. Scale this up, and even printing food isn't too inconceivable.
    • why bother to print, most food is made of cells, they can be grown. you won't be assembling cells in your printer.

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
        Eventually, it'll be more of a case of why you wouldn't want to. If you can print ANYTHING on an atomic scale, easily, you might as well as food to that list. Advantages also include:

        a: Potentially much quicker to produce and more plentiful.
        b: Reclaiming all the world's farmland back.
        c: Printing foods which are unique in texture and taste to anything we have today.
        d: Printing food in climates with little rain or sun.
        e: ...and from the comfort of your own home without going to the supermarket.
        f: Perf
        • you don't understand, it's one thing to stick an atom on a substrate. it's quite another to make the various kinds of bonds that tie atoms together in chemicals and living things. most of those can't be done one at a time, the bonds only can be made by atoms already in complicated bonds with others. the proteins in a cell, and the way they fold and bind is exceedingly complex, supercomputers run for days to model such reactions.

    • Re:Picotechnology (Score:4, Informative)

      by Blaskowicz ( 634489 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:52PM (#44182445)

      If it takes one second to print a square nanometer, then printing a whole square meter will take 10^18 seconds, that's more than 3x 10^8 years which is 300 million years. Then you need many, many layers to make e.g. a thin crust pizza.

      Of course, maybe it can be faster, maybe you can use ten thousands nanoprinters/picoprinters in parallel or more but that's the main objection I have for now about printing macro objects on the nano scale. I do realize the existence of regular food means the concept isn't totally unworkable, it gives an indication of the "scale up" factor as well. How many millions, billions or trillions of cells are involved in making a grain of rice or an egg?, I have no clearly accurate idea.

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
        That exponential growth you speak of reminds me of something to with computer memory and CPU speed. Single digits growing to trillions - I wonder if that could happen in reality.
      • Yep, printing food is a bad idea. Until you have a von Neumann machine, the big point is to use it to make a von Neumann machine. Once you're there, the exponential benefits of transistor design can be realized on the macro scale. Then making a pizza becomes a trivial process. Of course, then the big trick is not turning the whole world into pizzas.

  • by Crudely_Indecent ( 739699 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:31PM (#44182175) Journal

    Instead of waiting 5 hours to print your Yoda head, you can print it in mere decades.

    The upside, you won't have layer lines, and you can choose materials other than PLA and ABS.

  • I own a ballpoint pen that writes with a mixture of ions and molecules. It's made by Bic. The same company also makes tiny portable plasma generators called lighters.

  • It's an interesting machine, with it's shutter. Here's a direct link to the paper: [] I hate exaggeration in sci news, (50 nm)^3 is a minimum spot size of about 10,000,000 atoms, or 50,000 of atoms if they do a single atom thick deposition. Also, Standard FIBs can already deposit gold and other things using a deposition gas injector, with similar resolution and speed, and no aperture to clog. A Russian group drew images of characters in a similar way in 2
  • And 10 years later, Slashdot will report that the Boston University is suing, again [].
  • Well it is, as long as you've got (free) access to a Focused Ion Beam... Problem his that kind of hardware costs something like a million euro...

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.