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‘Electroadhesive’ Stamp to Maneuver Microscopic Structures

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has devised a way to pick up and manipulate extremely small electronic components found in cutting-edge technology. Using a tiny ‘electroadhesive’ stamp, researchers can now pick up and put down objects that are as minute as 20 nanometers wide. That’s roughly 1,000 times finer than a strand of human hair; this technology could prove extremely useful as the components in our devices get smaller and smaller in size.

The high-tech stamp is made from an assortment of ceramic-coated carbon nanotubes. The tubes are placed so they stick up, like the bristles found in a toothbrush. A small voltage is sent through the stamp, which causes the carbon nanotubes to temporarily hold a charge. This results in the formation of electrical attraction capable of pulling in minute particles, which allows the device to hold onto an object. Releasing the object is as simple as turning off the voltage; the electrical attraction will vanish, and the object can be deposited in a chosen location.

“Electronics manufacturing requires handling and assembling small components in a size similar to or smaller than grains of flour. So a special pick-and-place solution is needed, rather than simply miniaturizing [existing] robotic grippers and vacuum systems.”

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Sanha Kim, a former MIT postdoc and research scientist who worked in the lab of mechanical engineering associate professor John Hart

Researchers believe that this stamping technique could be scaled up to allow for commercialization. The stamps would be able to print both nanoscale and microscale features, allowing scientists to add a wealth of elements onto incredibly tiny computer chips. But this stamping process could have other applications as well, particularly in the medical field. With some modifications, scientists believe that this innovation could one day be used to apply cells to artificial tissue.

The technology could be used to create voltage-activated pads that are macroscale, bioinspired, and perfect for grabbing objects. In the field of robotics, this electroadhesion technology could be used to make robots capable of easily climbing any surface. But all these innovations are far in the future. For now, scientists are working on streamlining their technology and looking into the different ways they could scale up their electroadhesive stamp.

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