ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
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We target manufacturing techniques for the micro and nano-scale that rely on assembly principles observed in living cells. We particularly focus on maskless techniques outside of cleanrooms, at the solid-liquid interface, and suitable for a wide range of materials.
Current technology for microfabrication and, to a large extent, also for nanofabrication relies on ultra-clean environments provided by cleanroom facilities or even ultra-high-vacuum systems to prevent the deposition and accumulation of dust particles or unwanted molecules. Yet, living cells are perfectly capable of synthesizing and assembling nanostructures in a liquid environment crowded by lots of different molecular structures that constantly bump into "devices" being built, but do not interfere with the assembly process because they cannot bind strongly enough. Whereas micro and nanofabrication in living nature is characterized by specific interactions, current engineering technology on this scale is preoccupied with the prevention of non-specific interactions and, as a result, has to rely on sophisticated masking and lithography equipment and processes. In fact, the exorbitant costs associated with this type of infrastructure, particularly when approaching the nanometer scale, might very well stop further miniaturization before the physical limits are reached.