Robotic assembly of the world's smallest house -- Even a mite doesn't fit through the door!

May 18, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2018 -- A French nanorobotics team from the Femto-ST Institute in Besançon, France, assembled a new microrobotics system that pushes forward the frontiers of optical nanotechnologies. Combining several existing technologies, the μRobotex nanofactory builds microstructures in a large vacuum chamber and fixes components onto optical fiber tips with nanometer accuracy. The microhouse construction, reported in the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A, from AIP Publishing, demonstrates how researchers can advance optical sensing technologies when they manipulate ion guns, electron beams and finely controlled robotic piloting.

Until now, lab-on-fiber technologies had no robotic actuators for nanoassembly, so working at this scale inhibited engineers from building microstructures. This innovation allows miniaturized sensing elements to be installed on fiber tips so engineers can see and manipulate different components. With this advancement, optical fibers as thin as human hair can be inserted into inaccessible locations like jet engines and blood vessels to detect radiation levels or 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," said Jean-Yves Rauch, an author on the paper.

The French engineers combined all the technological components for nanoassembly -- a focused ion beam, a gas injection system and a tiny maneuverable robot -- in a vacuum chamber, and installed a microscope to view the assembly process. "We decided to build the microhouse on the fiber to show that we are able to realize these microsystem assemblies on top of an optical fiber with high accuracy," Rauch said.

Building a microhouse is like making a giant dice from a piece of paper, but nanoassembly requires more sophisticated tools. The focused ion beam is used like scissors to cut or score the silica membrane "paper" of the house. Once the walls fold into position, a lower power setting is selected on the ion gun, and the gas injection system sticks the edges of the structure into place. The low-power ion beam and gas injection then gently sputters a tiled pattern on the roof, a detail that emphasizes the accuracy and flexibility of the system.

In this process, the ion gun had to focus on an area only 300 micrometers by 300 micrometers to fire ions onto the fiber tip and silica membrane. "It's very challenging to pilot the robot with high accuracy at this cross point between the two beams," Rauch said. He explained that two engineers worked at multiple computers to control the process. Many steps are already automated, but in the future the team hopes to automate all the robotic stages of assembly.

Now, using the μRobotex system, these engineers are constructing functionalized microstructures to detect specific molecules by attaching their microstructures onto optical fibers. The nanorobotics team is hoping to push the limits of the technology further still, by constructing smaller structures and fixing these onto carbon nanotubes, only 20 nanometers to 100 nanometers in diameter.
-end-
The article, "Smallest microhouse in the world, assembled on the facet of an optical fiber by origami and welded in the μRobotex nanofactory," is authored by Jean-Yves J. Rauch, Olivier Lehmann, Patrick Rougeot, Joel Abadie, Joel Agnus and Miguel Angel Suarez. The article appeared in the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A on May 15, 2018 (DOI: 10.1116/1.5020128) and can be accessed at https://avs.scitation.org/doi/10.1116/1.5020128.

ABOUT THE JOURNAL

Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A features reports of original research, letters, and review articles on interfaces and surfaces of materials, thin films, and plasmas. JVST A publishes reports that advance the fundamental understanding of interfaces and surfaces at a fundamental level and that use this understanding to advance the state of the art in various technological applications. See https://avs.scitation.org/journal/jva.

American Institute of Physics

Related Optical Fiber Articles from Brightsurf:

Graphene controls laser frequency combs in fiber
Tuning laser frequency combs electrically can enrich diversity of comb outputs and help to stabilize them actively.

Asymmetric optical camouflage: Tuneable reflective color accompanied by optical Janus effect
Deliverying viewing-direction sensitive information display across single sheet of transreflective window is introduced.

Revealing the reason behind jet formation at the tip of laser optical fiber
When an optical fiber is immersed in liquid, a high temperature, high speed jet is discharged.

Rochester researchers document an optical fiber beyond compare
A new anti-resonant hollow core optical fiber produces a thousand times less ''noise'' interfering with signals it transmits compared to the single-mode fibers now widely used.

Brazilian researcher creates an ultra-simple inexpensive method to fabricate optical fiber
The conventional process requires costly large-scale equipment. The novel method can be executed in a single step by a device no larger than a microwave oven.

How bacteria adhere to fiber in the gut
Researchers have revealed a new molecular mechanism by which bacteria adhere to cellulose fibers in the human gut.

Brazilian researchers develop an optical fiber made of gel derived from marine algae
Edible, biocompatible and biodegradable, these fibers have potential for various medical applications.

A survey on optical memory and optical RAM technologies
The ability to store with light and built promising optical memories has been an intriguing research topic for more than two decades.

All-fiber optical wavelength converter
Wavelength conversion in all-fiber structure has extensive applications in new fiber-laser sources, signal processing, and multi-parameter sensors.

New design could make fiber communications more energy efficient
Researchers say a new discovery on a US Army project for optoelectronic devices could help make optical fiber communications more energy efficient.

Read More: Optical Fiber News and Optical Fiber Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.