Smaller and smaller houses are becoming increasingly common. However, when we talk about the world’s smallest house, it is really not what you would expect. French scientists have built a microhouse that sits on the cleaved end of an optical fiber to demonstrate the capabilities of a new nanorobotic system.
The world’s smallest home was built by a team from the Femto-ST Institute in Besancon, France using the new Robotex nanofactory system. The setup includes an ion gun controlled robotically and a gas injection system. The whole operation takes place inside a vacuum chamber to assemble microstructures on the tips of optical fibers with extreme accuracy.
A dual beam scanning electron microscope is used for guidance. Two engineers working on multiple computers used the Robotex system to create the world’s smallest house out of silica-membrane. It only measures 300 by 300 micrometers.
The ion beam was used to cut a flat sheet of the membrane which was then used to form the basic structure. The gas injection system was used to weld the joined edges together. A lower-powered ion beam worked together with the gas injection system to sputter the tiles onto the roof.
Microhouses may not be practical in the real world, the technology it demonstrates can be very practical and can be used in assembling sensing elements on the tips of optical fibers as thin as a human hair, which could then be inserted into the bloodstream to detect viral molecules.
“For the first time we were able to realize patterning and assembly with less than 2 nanometers of accuracy, which is a very important result for the robotics and optical community,” says Jean-Yves Rauch, author of a paper on the research.
Technology like this has never been seen before and as more processes become automated, scientists will be able to create even smaller structures.