Nanoscribe Microscope


Did You Know…

…that There Is Such Thing as a Grain-Sized Microscope?

What do the Brandenburg Gate, the Statue of Liberty, and a microscope have in common? In everyday life, nothing at all. However, if they are produced by a laser lithography instrument that is able to construct three-dimensional structures, they appear completely identical to the naked eye: only three tiny little grains are visible, the actual contours of which can only be seen with a scanning electron microscope.

At first glance, this may seem like fun and games, but Nanoscribe, the spin-off company of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) that developed the system, has clearly demonstrated this instrument’s capabilities. The ZEISS Axio Observer mini-microscope is just barely 150 micrometers (0.15 millimeter) high. In its original size, it is one of the core components of the 3D laser lithography system that works using ultrashort laser pulses. Like a pen that can be moved in any direction, the laser beam reproduces the photosensitive material in 3D. Once the unexposed areas are removed, the resulting image is an exact replica of the original.

Fields in which this system can be put to use include life sciences, photonics, micro-optics, and optical communication. Biologists use the nanostructures produced by laser lithographs as a three-dimensional framework, which acts as an artificial matrix for cells where it is possible, for example, to research environmental influences on stem cell differentiation and cell migration.

Professor Christian Koos and his team at KIT recently caused quite a stir. With the aid of the 3D laser lithography system from Nanoscribe, their work group succeeded for the first time in producing organic optical fibers enabling broadband optical high-speed connections between physically separate silicon chips. "In the future, these “photonic wire bonds” may become the basic component of integrated optical telecommunications systems. Koos received the Alfried Krupp Research Prize for Young University Teachers for his work in optical communications technology.

So, whether it is the Brandenburg Gate or the Statue of Liberty, the grain-sized structural landmarks are fascinating and unexpected attention-getters with a playful twist, which, however, herald research applications of far-reaching significance.

11 July 2012