MIT researches made an announcement this month that sounds like something out of the 1989 movie, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The researches have invented a new process called “implosion fabrication,” that can shrink objects to one 1,000th of their original size.
“People have been trying to invent better equipment to make smaller nanomaterials for years,” said neurotechnology professor Edward Boyden, the lead researcher, in a statement. “There are all kinds of things you can do with this.”
In the 80s movie, a scientist father accidentally uses a shrink ray to shrink his and two other neighborhood teens to the size of insects. Today, MIT says they can use a laser to shrink specially prepared objects using safe, non-toxic, and readily available laboratory tools. One of the items required is a gel commonly used in baby diapers, but other than that, there is no connection or possibility of shrinking children. Oh well…
The shrinking technology could have revolutionary implications for our world. The world of microchips could be replaced by a world of nanochips, meaning electronics on a tiny scale are possible. The concept of tiny nanorobots injected into the bloodstream to fight diseases just became much more feasible, so another movie from 1987, Innerspace, might be slightly more realistic.
Intestinal Fortitude: The Conceptual Magic of #Innerspace
— VHSRevival (Edison Smith) (@VHSRevival) June 24, 2018
Ed Boyden, professor in neurotechnology at the MIT Media Lab, shared a picture of the implosion fabrication printer on Twitter. The process relies on anchors created by light patterns designed by the scientists. They were able to create 3D scaffolds out of hydrogels and then deposit functional materials at defined points. Then, the researchers shrank the objects through dehydration in a controlled way using an acid. The possibilities are endless because any material can be attached to the hydrogel, such as metal, or DNA, or “quantum dot” particles.
“You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors,” researcher Edward Boyden said in an MIT news release.
What does the implosion fabrication (paper at https://t.co/mAlpDayX2d) printer look like? It's a microscope, which delivers light into a user-defined pattern. The light attaches anchors to sites inside the polymer, which later can bind functional materials. (Credit: Dan Oran.) pic.twitter.com/RssNgxHvLp
— Ed Boyden (@eboyden3) December 20, 2018
One of the objects that the researchers decided to shrink was an image of Alice in Wonderland. They were able to shrink her to the width of a single human hair. The researcher says they “were able to shrink Alice in Wonderland more than Lewis Carroll did.”
With implosion fabrication (just published in Science, https://t.co/08U8Q1T61j), members of our group (led by Dan Oran, @SGRodriques, @AdamMarblestone) were able to shrink Alice in Wonderland more than Lewis Carroll did. pic.twitter.com/jeH6wGfY8f
— Ed Boyden (@eboyden3) December 14, 2018
Since we are talking about Alice in Wonderland, this invention might remind you of the “Drink Me” potions and “Eat Me” cakes that shrink and expand Alice to giant size. In the case of this invention, it appears the expanding idea came first. Ed Boyden developed a technique called “expansion microscopy” in 2014. Particles were injected in a gel and then expanded so they could be seen easier. Then they had a eureka moment and started doing the reverse to shrink objects instead.
The possibilities are endless for what this new technique can do in the fields of robotics, and optics. It seems these researches have opened up a tiny door into unlimited possibilities. Since it is relatively simple and safe, the process could be appearing everywhere from school science fairs to the most sophisticated laboratories. It’s relatively inexpensive, which opens up the doors of nanotechnology to just about anyone.
No, these aren’t Shrinky Dinks, but shrinking three-dimensional objects.
— Steve Shea (@sheacshl) December 13, 2018
See more in the video below:
Featured image: “Drink Me” by colourized via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0