Folding paper into shapes such as a crane or a butterfly is challenging enough for most people. Now imagine trying to fold something that’s about a hundred times thinner than a human hair and then putting it to use as an electronic device.
A team of researchers led by George Barbastathis, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is developing the basic principles of “nano-origami,” a new technique that allows engineers to fold nanoscale materials into simple 3-D structures. The tiny folded materials could be used as motors and capacitors, potentially leading to better computer memory storage, faster microprocessors and new nanophotonic devices.
Traditional micro- and nano-fabrication techniques such as X-ray lithography and nano-imprinting work beautifully for two-dimensional structures, and are commonly used to build microprocessors and other micro-electrical-mechanical (MEMS) devices. However, they cannot create 3-D structures.
“A lot of what s done now is planar ” says Tony Nichol a mechanical engineering graduate student working on the project. “We want to take all of the nice tools that have been developed for 2-D and do 3-D things.” The MIT team uses conventional lithography tools to pattern 2-D materials at the nanoscale then folds them into predetermined 3-D shapes opening a new realm of possible applications.