TU Graz researchers develop new 3D printing for the direct production of nanostructures

Harald Plank (r.) and his team were able for the first time to produce complex 3

Harald Plank (r.) and his team were able for the first time to produce complex 3D-printed nano-components without a additional support structures. © Lunghammer - TU Graz

A team from Graz University of Technology succeeded in using the FEBID method to produce complex 3D-printed nano-components for the first time without additional support structures.

Additional pictures for download at the end of the text

In the nanometer range, complex, free-standing 3D architectures are very difficult to produce in a single step due to the required precision. In the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Direct Write Fabrication of 3D Nano-Probes, scientists at Graz University of Technology are therefore devoting themselves to the fundamentals of 3D Nanoprinting to push its possibilities beyond current limitations. For that, the research group uses the technology Focused Electron Beam Induced Deposition (FEBID), which is already used successfully in the production of complex but often flat nanostructures.

How the new 3D nanoprinting technology works

The new process will be used in cooperation with industrial partners GETec Microscopy (Vienna) and Anton Paar GmbH (Graz) in the field of atomic force microscopy for the production of functional nano-probes with apex radii of less than ten nanometers. "The printing process takes place in the vacuum chamber of electron microscopes. The functional gases are introduced with a fine capillary in close proximity to the sample. The gaseous molecules then adsorb on the surface and are chemically broken down and immobilised by the focused electron beam - they remain in place through interaction with the electrons," explains Plank. "You can imagine 3D nanoprinting like a ballpoint pen: The electron beam acts like a ballpoint pen refill and the gas is the ink."

Plank and his team were inspired by Lego bricks for printing inclined structures: "To build a tilted architecture using Lego, the next higher layer of bricks must always be moved sideward. This is exactly what we have transferred to 3D nanoprinting: Before applying the next layer, we shift the electron beam and literally print diagonally upwards."

Successful implementation

During the last 20 months, the CD lab was able to deliver the first proof-of-principle. In more detail, FEBID was successfully used for the production of electrically conductive nanoprobes, whose performance is significantly higher than that of alternative, commercially available products. Plank and his team are satisfied with the result: "Small series production will start in Vienna in the coming months and open up new possibilities for the industrial partner GETec Microscopy."

International cooperation

To ensure that the new process does not remain a niche technology, the researchers in the CD lab are currently developing a new software for FEBID based 3D Nanoprinting, which will allow fabrication of complex nanostructures even without broad prior knowledge. For that, Plank and his research group have joined forces with (USA) and the (GER), which together with Graz University of Technology are among the world’s leading research institutions in this field. This project also focuses on extending the process to 3D surfaces and multi-material structures, which further increases the design flexibility and thus the relevance of this technology in research and development.

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The CD Laboratory for direct fabrication of 3D nanoprobes is anchored in the Field of Expertise " ", one of five strategic focal areas of Graz University of Technology.

Additive Direct-Write 3D Manufacturing of 3D Nanostrucutres using the FEBID method. The diameter of the growing branches is about 150 nm.

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Tel.: +43 316 873 8821
harald.plank @felmi-zfe.at

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