A new way to conduct 3D printing of nanoscale silica glass allows for extremely low temperatures

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Fabrication of high quality fused silica nanostructures from acrylate-functionalized POSS resin. (A) Schematic synthesis of TPP by 3D printing and heat treatment at 650°C. (B to I) Micrographs of fused silica structures: (B) optically true-color blue-violet light reflectance with woodblock photonic crystal (front structure), (C) close-up top view of pattern from 97-nm-wide lines, (D and E ) octet nanolattice >5000 beams, (F and G) parabolic microlenses, (H) inset optical micrograph with 150-um-high multilens diffractive micro-objective, and (I) close-up view of nanostructured Fresnel lens element. (C), scale at 100 nm; All other size bars, 10 um. debt: Science (2023) DOI: 10.1126/science.abq3037

Materials scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the University of California, Irvine, and Edwards Life Sciences have developed a way to 3D print nanoscale glass structures at much cooler temperatures than previous methods.

Their study, reported in the journal Science, Jens Bauer, Cameron Crook and Tommaso Baldacchini used their technique to print various nanostructures. Paolo Colombo and Giorgia Franchin, together with the University of Padova, have published a perspective piece in the same journal describing the methods used to print nanoscale glasses and ceramics and the team’s work on this new initiative.

In recent years, 3D printing has been used for a variety of applications, resulting in impressive works of art, low-cost products, and highly detailed physical models. One application that has generated interest is nanoscale 3D printing materials—such materials are used in the creation of small electronic devices, particularly components that use light. Until now, most such applications have been limited to the production of materials made from polymers, as the base materials are easily melted and allowed to harden by cooling.

But polymers do not provide the resolution required for light-based nano-photonics. Unfortunately, attempts to 3D print glass structures have only been partially successful because of the extremely high temperatures required for sintering (melting to form a solid mass). In this new effort, the research team found a way to print nanoscale structures at half the temperature of traditional approaches.

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Instead of using suspended silica nanoparticles, as in other methods, the researchers formed a liquid resin cage-like structure around polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane molecules. The team then used the resin as an ink to 3D print objects, then heated them to 650°C (other methods require heating to 1100°C). Heating removed the organic components and transformed the cages into a continuous glass material.

The team tested their approach by 3D printing microlenses and other small objects and suggests it could be used for on-chip printing of optical-grade fused silica.

More information:
J. Bauer et al, A Sinterless, Low-Temperature Route to 3D Print Nanoscale Optical-Grade Glass, Science (2023) DOI: 10.1126/science.abq3037

Paolo Colombo et al., Optimizing Glass Nanostructure Formation, Science (2023) DOI: 10.1126/science.adi2747

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