Shrinking problems in 3D printing
Although a range of materials can now be fabricated using additive manufacturing techniques, these usually involve assembly of a series of stacked layers, which restricts three-dimensional (3D) geometry. Oran et al. developed a method to print a range of materials, including metals and semiconductors, inside a gel scaffold (see the Perspective by Long and Williams). When the hydrogels were dehydrated, they shrunk 10-fold, which pushed the feature sizes down to the nanoscale.
Lithographic nanofabrication is often limited to successive fabrication of two-dimensional (2D) layers. We present a strategy for the direct assembly of 3D nanomaterials consisting of metals, semiconductors, and biomolecules arranged in virtually any 3D geometry. We used hydrogels as scaffolds for volumetric deposition of materials at defined points in space. We then optically patterned these scaffolds in three dimensions, attached one or more functional materials, and then shrank and dehydrated them in a controlled way to achieve nanoscale feature sizes in a solid substrate. We demonstrate that our process, Implosion Fabrication (ImpFab), can directly write highly conductive, 3D silver nanostructures within an acrylic scaffold via volumetric silver deposition. Using ImpFab, we achieve resolutions in the tens of nanometers and complex, non–self-supporting 3D geometries of interest for optical metamaterials.