Physicists at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) are bringing Christmas cheer with a 3D nanolithography tool called the Nanofrazor to create the smallest record ever. The tune they “recorded,” in full stereo, no less: the first 25 seconds of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”
“I’ve been doing lithography for 30 years, and even though we’ve had this machine for a while, it still feels like science fiction,” said Peter Bøggild, a physicist at DTU. , we could write our signatures on a red blood cell with this thing. The most radical thing is that we can create free 3D landscapes in this crazy resolution.”
In 2015, the same DTU group produced a microscopic color image Mona Lisa, about 10,000 times smaller than Leonardo da Vinci’s original painting. To this end, they created a nanoscale surface structure consisting of rows of columns covered with a 20 nm thick layer of aluminum. How much the column was deformed determined which colors of light were reflected, and the deformation was in turn determined by the intensity of the pulsed laser beam. For example, low-intensity pulses only slightly distorted the bars and produced blue and purple tones, while strong pulses significantly distorted the bars and produced orange and yellow tones. The resulting image fit into a space smaller than the footprint occupied by a single pixel on the iPhone’s Retina display.
The DTU physics group acquired the Nanofrazor to sculpt precisely detailed 3D nanostructures quickly and relatively cheaply. The Christmas board was simply a fun holiday project for postdoc Nolan Lassalino to demonstrate the ability to shape a surface with nano-precision. Instead of adding material to a surface, the Nanofrazor precisely removes material to shape the surface into the desired pattern or shape—a type of grayscale nanolithography.
“The nanofrazer was put to work like a lathe for cutting records – converting the sound signal into a spiral groove on the surface of the medium,” said Bøggild, who is also an amateur musician and vinyl record enthusiast. “In this case, the medium is a polymer other than vinyl. We’ve even encoded the music in stereo – the side warp is the left channel, while the depth modulation is the right channel. It may be too impractical and expensive to become a hit. You need a fairly expensive atomic force microscope or Nanofrazor to read the groove, but it’s certainly doable.”
The original goal is to use the Nanofrazor to develop new kinds of magnetic sensors capable of detecting currents in living brains. Lassaline plans to create “quantum soap bubbles” in graphene, hoping to discover new ways to precisely manipulate electrons in this and other atomically thin materials. “The fact that we can now precisely shape surfaces with nanoscale precision at speeds almost beyond imagination is a game-changer for us,” said DTU physicist Tim Booth. “We have many ideas for what to do next, and we believe this machine will greatly accelerate the prototyping of new structures.”
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