3D printing has revolutionized how we walk through printed shoes, how we live through printed houses and now German researchers brought it another leap forward. With their new micron-scale optics, they want to make medicine and other fields much more efficient. Even though other companies and universities have already come up with 3D-printed fiber optics in the past, this new optic drives the production of nano-optics in another way.

Micro-Optics Made in Germany

The inventors behind the mini-optic come from the University of Stuttgart and revolve around physics professor Harald Giessen who worked together with master’s students Simon Ristok and Timo Gissibl. For two years, they tried to find the perfect production process to create a prototype of an optic, which is less than 1 micrometer in size. According to the scientists, their invention is a great breakthrough in the nano field. With the help of Nanoscribe, a spin-off from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the team managed to 3D-print their invention.

Laser Printing Lets Small Things Become Great

The femtosecond laser writing technique is the basis for their idea. It can print integrated optics at a micron-scale, which can be used for optical instruments such as endoscopes. Before that, Timo Gissibl has to calculate the perfect lens system at a computer. It consists of three lenses and can be chosen freely in order to take any form. In a second step, the scientists put a UV coating on a glass plate. Finally, the laser emits short pulses to precise areas and then hardens light-sensitive materials into a 3D structure consisting of 500 layers, printed within 5 hours.

In the past, this technique has been used by other researches as well but environmental conditions and other parameters hindered them from being successful in printing micro-optics. To tackle this problem, the German scientists used a special two-photon 3D lithography system, specially designed for this purpose. According to Harald Giessen, this technique is highly efficient and promising for the future production: “Although femtosecond laser writing has been demonstrated in the lab, we have shown that it can be used to make high-performance micro-optics in a manner that is highly repeatable and reliable. […] It opens a new era of integrated micro-and nano-optics!”

Micro-Optics in the Future

Now that the production of the small optics is possible at a scalable level, the scientists think of many fields where we can use them. For example in medicine, it will be possible to use high-end endoscopes, which can be even smaller than the ones already in use. Just recently the scientists managed to print a mini optic at the end of a fiberglass. This is a huge leap towards efficiency.

What do you think of nano-optics and how can this affect our everyday life? Leave us a comment in the section below.