Tiny Tech #26: The Incredible Shrinking Gel

Today from the world of Tiny Tech:

Remember that annoying cotton shirt that shrank two sizes after you did your laundry? Well, scientists have recently developed a really clever way to use a similar effect to make tiny three dimensional devices.

They begin with a special water-absorbing polymer called a gel. After the gel is swelled with water, a 3D pattern of reactive bonds is created inside it using laser light. The reactive bonds are then used to attach objects inside the gel, such as DNA or nanoparticles. The result is a gel containing a patterned assembly of embedded objects – kind of like your Aunt Betty’s Jello fruit salad. But, amazingly, when the scientists treat their gel with acid and then dry it out, it shrinks to only one-twentieth of its original size!

The shrinking also shrinks the pattern of embedded objects by a factor of 20. As a demonstration, the scientists showed that this approach can be used to make wires that are very small, but still conductive enough to be used in nanoelectronics.

Scientists necessarily have to be pretty adventuresome to be successful. I guess you could say that these scientists … were no shrinking violets.

Tiny Tech is made possible by the National Science Foundation and WUFT.  To learn more about Tiny Tech, go to tinytechradio.org.

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