The wonders of rapid prototyping are showing no signs of ceasing these days. It is providing us with more amazing products as time goes on. Now it is time to change the course that rapid prototyping has been on and develop it even further. Recently, a brand new method for 3D printing has been developed by a collaborative team of researchers. They have developed miniscule 3D printing through highly complex structures on the tips of optical fibers. These are reported to have diameters of 125 micrometers, which is approximately equivalent to the width of a strand of human hair. This new method is next generation in its truest sense. This newly developed method is proved to be one of the most accurate and precise methods for complex rapid prototyping structures on optical fibers. Not only that, this method is also much less expensive than the usual existing methods which are used currently for doing this task. This method is giving us hope to open pathways for a myriad of new applications which includes telecommunications, bio sensors, and optical trapping.
The research team was a collaboration of researchers from different parts of the world. Individual researchers included Giuseppe Calafiore and Alexander Koshelev. Other researchers were from abeam Technologies Inc., University of California, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Through the combined efforts of all these great minds, a study was published which gave the world a method for nano-printing. This study was published in the journal called Nanotechnology.
Normally it is very expensive and also requires intricate techniques like electron beam lithography and ion-beam milling to produce complex optical components on the tip of an optical fiber. But this method changes all that. Through this newly discovered method by the researchers, 3D structures are printed directly on the minuscule optical fiber by the means of ultraviolet nano-imprint lithography system. This system is a very time and cost effective way for rapid prototyping structures at a small scale.
The working mechanism of this process is a tad on the intricate side. In this certain working mechanism, the 3D optical structures work by itself to control the light which comes from the optical fiber. In the process, it changes the phase and the properties of the wave front. For example to attain the capability to accurately control the light properties of the optical fiber, it is utterly necessary to advance things like biomedical sensors, laser machining, lab-on-a-fiber, and much more. But in the report which was created by the researchers, it was demonstrated that this new method can very successfully imprint an intricate 3D beam splitter which in turn was successful in splitting the optical fiber’s optics into 4 separate and thoroughly intense beams. To provide an estimation as to how precise and on the scale the researchers were working with to produce the desired 3D beam splitter, it was stated that this specific process required the milling of two hundred and fifty five different height levels on a five x five µm2 structure.
One of the researchers in this project and also its co-author, is Keiko Munechika from aBeam Technologies. He explained that the recent development of this wonderful technology provides us with a lot of strategic advantages in a lot of forms including flexibility in the design of optical structures, cost efficiency, and reproducibility. Not only this, this wonderful piece of technology allows the fabrication of intrinsic optical structures which are formed of materials which have relatively high refractive index directly onto the fiber. Hence, through this technology, the possibility of a wide new range of fiber probes and devices comes into being. These devices include optical tweezers and a whole lot of immersion applications in which different types of fiber lenses fail to work. This ultraviolet nano-imprint lithography method is the most precise when lithographic accuracy is concerned. He also explained other conventional processes that can do this work but which are way more costly and very difficult to align the optics and also very bulky. One of those conventional process mentioned by him is the vortex method where the vortex phases the mask that produces beams which in its course carry angular momentum.
This process is normally used in STED, telecommunications, and microscopy, but the newly developed technology shows us this can also be done through the nanofabrication of 3-D optical components straight onto the ends of the optical fibers which is a lot less expensive and also time effective and has a lot of widespread uses. As this specific form of rapid prototyping project is getting more and more successful as time goes on, the researchers behind this amazing project are hoping to expand this method as much as possible and eventually be able to commercialize the optical fiber probes. This technology is surely going to change the way we see rapid prototyping from now on.
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