3D-Printed NEMS Devices Could Replace MEMS for Sensors Capable of Detecting a Single Molecule

Ultra-compact nano-electro-mechanical systems, NEMS, can now be produced rapidly and at a low cost — thanks to 3D printing.

Gareth Halfacree
a month ago3D Printing / Sensors

Researchers at the Politecnico di Torino and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem have showcased nanomechanical resonators created through 3D printing — which, they say, could power ultra-compact multi-functional sensors as replacements for micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).

"The NEMS [nano-electro-mechanical systems] 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," explains first author Stefano Sassi.

"The ability to fabricate complex and miniature devices that have performance similar to silicon ones by a quick and simple 3D printing process brings new horizons to the field of additive manufacturing and rapid manufacturing," adds co-author Shlomo Magdassi.

The 3D-printed NEMS devices are designed to be more compact than their MEMS equivalents yet without the high cost associated with silicon-based NEMS production. The mechanical nanoresonators — assembled into three classes of devices: Membranes, cantilevers, and bridges — were created using a two-photon polymerization printing process, which left behind a ceramic structure with high rigidity and low internal dissipation.

The team believes that the nanodevices could be used to produce high-sensitivity, high-accuracy sensors for inertia, mass, and force with the ability to interact with matter as small as a single molecule. Better still, the manufacturing technique has room to expand the functionality of the finished nanodevices.

"Our rapid prototyping method allows the possibility to create printed material with intrinsic functionalities by tailoring the starting precursor solution," the team writes in the paper's discussion section.

"Therefore, this uniqueness of the fabrication process can bring to the realization of new types of nanomechanical multiphysical devices. For example, Nd:YAG material presented in this work is an optical emitter at 1064nm and can be the base for the fabrication of an integrated optomechanical device."

The team's work has been published in the journal Nature Communications under open-access terms.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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