This month, MIT researchers announced that they have devised a way to downsize objects with a nanoscale laser – smaller than what you can see with a microscope. This means that they can take on any simple structure and reduce it to one-thousandth of its original size.
"People have been trying for years to develop better devices for making smaller nanomaterials," said New York neurotechnology senior researcher Edward Leeden in a statement. "There are all sorts of things you can do with it."
It's a long way from "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," but the new method offers many cool applications in the real world. For example, scientists are exploring ways to add tiny robotic particles to cancer drugs that only cancer cells can track down. And forget about microchips ̵
The best part? MIT's cutting-edge technology simply requires a laser and absorbent gel (commonly used in baby diapers) – materials that most biology and engineering laboratories already possess.
Here's how it works: Using a laser, researchers create a structure with absorbent gel – similar to writing with a pen in 3D. Then they can attach any material – metal, DNA or tiny "quantum dot" particles – to the structure. Finally, they reduce the structure to a tiny size.
"It's a bit like film photography," said researcher Daniel Oran. "A latent image is created by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light, then you can develop that latent image into a real image by then attaching another material, silver."
In fact, Oran is a trained photographer, and the project began in 2014, when he and his graduate student Samuel Rodriques did a background in physics, opted for A co-operation.
The inverse enabled the researchers to produce nanoscale objects. So far, only two-dimensional structures could be made using similar laser techniques, and other methods of downsizing 3D objects have been much slower and more difficult to perform in most laboratories.
"Normally, nanotechnology uses very expensive technologies and requires sterile spaces … but we did not have to do that because we use this framework to protect the materials," said Rodriques.
The researchers say this technology could become easily accessible in the future; It's even something you could use at home or at school because all materials are non-toxic.
"It's pretty hard to imagine everything we can do with it now," Rodriques said.