Ask Hackaday: Building nano scale antennas

As an RF engineering student, [Camerin] is usually tasked with pointless yet educational endeavors by his advisor and professors. Most of the time (we hope) he sees the task through and ends up pulling something out of his hat, but a few days ago a professor dropped a bombshell on him. After reading this article on nano scale antenna fabrication, a professor asked [Camerin] if it was possible to build a 3D inkjet printer with a ludicrous amount of accuracy and precision.

The full article, Conformal Printing of Electrically Small Antennas on Three-Dimensional Surfaces, was recently published in Advanced Materials and is available via Google Scholar. The jist of the article is that three-dimensional antennas printed on a sphere approach the physical limits of how good an antenna can be. To test out these small, spherical antennas, the authors of the paper built an extremely high-precision 3D inkjet printer that draws antenna traces on a glass sphere with conductive ink.

The positional accuracy of this printer is 50 nanometers, or about half the size of an HIV virus. The conductive silver ink is delivered by a nozzle with a diameter of 100 to 30 µm and prints onto a glass sphere about 6 mm in diameter. This is a level of precision that companies and research institutions pay top dollar for, so we’re left wondering how the authors built this thing.

We’re turning this question over to the astute readers of Hackaday: how exactly would you build a 3D inkjet printer with this much accuracy and precision? Would it even need to be that precise? Post your answer in the comments.

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