3D printing enables efficient fabrication of nano-sensors - researchers

Extremely small complex sensors called nano-electromechanical devices (NEMS) can be manufactured using 3D printers at a faster pace and lower cost than traditional fabrication methods.

A MAN watches a 3D Printer in action while attending a conference.  (photo credit: TRINITY WHEELER PHOTOGRAPHY)
A MAN watches a 3D Printer in action while attending a conference.
(photo credit: TRINITY WHEELER PHOTOGRAPHY)

Micro-electromechanical devices (MEMS), which are composed of tiny electrical and mechanical components, are commonly found in smartphones, in which they detect orientation, motion, sound and other stimuli. Even smaller versions of these devices called nano-electromechanical devices (NEMS) employ sensors that are so perceptive they can detect inputs at the molecular level, but are expensive to produce.

This complex technology, however, can be manufactured at a lower cost using 3D printers, according to an article published by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Department of Applied Science and Technology (DISAT) at Politecnico di Torino in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications in October.

Using 3D printers allows multiple NEMS to be produced quicker and more efficiently as well.

“The NEMS that we have fabricated and characterized have mechanical performances in line with current silicon devices, but they are obtained through a simpler, faster and more versatile process, thanks to which it is also possible to add new chemical-physical functionalities," DISAT researcher Stefano Stassi said.

View of the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, November 07, 2011. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)View of the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, November 07, 2011. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

The low-mass resonators which enable NEMS to sense various stimuli can be printed through a process called two-photon polymerization, or TPP, in which liquid ink made of metal salts is used to create complex, minuscule ceramic components.

"Thanks to our 3D printing approach, which is based on the conversion of soft hybrid structure into a rigid constitutive material with high-quality factor and low loss factor, we can surpass the performances of common devices which are fabricated with alternative techniques," the Nature Communications article read.