New technique to build nanomachines could put miniature electronics on a sheet of paper

Miniaturising technology is something we’ve been able to do in increasingly awe-inspiring fashion over the past decade or so. Our next goal ties in with that somewhat, which is implementing technology where we least expect it. Plenty of companies are already researching how we can put processors into previously mundane components of our life to realise the IoT dream, like our clothing, for instance. And that’s where the guys at Oregon State University come in.

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Recently, a team of engineers from OSU have managed to develop a new technique to fuse nanoparticles together into a functional miniature device, called “sintering”. The current method, which uses high temperatures for the process, may be while viable when working with more durable materials. OSU’s method, called “photonic sintering” instead uses a lower temperature Xenon lamp, broadcast over a wide area, to create a functional nanomachine film. In layman’s terms, since the new process is carried out at a temperature at least two times lower, it can be used to print a thin nanotech film on even paper. Added to that, photonic sintering is also reportedly twice as fast and about ten times more energy efficient, making the manufacturing process both faster and cheaper.

The breakthrough, if it can be successfully replicated for manufacturing conditions, could do wonders for the tech industry. As assistant professor of mechanical engineering at OSU, Rajiv Malhotra, said in a press release, “Lower temperature is a real key. To lower costs, we want to print these nanotech products on things like paper and plastic, which would burn or melt at higher temperatures. We now know that is possible, and how to do it. We should be able to create production processes that are both fast and cheap, without a loss of quality.” You can read more about the technical research behind the technique here.

The applications could vary; from flexible electronics, to wearable biomedical sensors, to improved solar cells. OSU researchers will be working with two private manufacturers to create a proof-of-concept facility in their lab. If that goes according to plan, the next step would be commercial production. And maybe, in a few years, you’ll come back to read this page as a digital story on a physical newspaper. Maybe.