Molecular cutting: what it is and what it is used for

molecular cut

I already dedicated a previous article to the topic of cuts with CNC machinery, but now we go one step further, and I will try the issue of molecular cutting, which is a new type of cut that new technologies have allowed and that allows very complex cuts to be made with almost perfect precision.

In fact, such is the precision, which has almost become a viral phenomenon on some social networks, since the videos are almost hypnotic as you will see later...

What is molecular cutting?

FIB

In the industrial sector, new technologies are increasingly sought that allow basic things to be done in a more efficient and optical way, and in this search for precision and control in the manipulation of matter, new and increasingly fascinating levels have been reached. . He molecular cutting, also known as focused ion beam ablation or FIB (Focused Ion Beam), emerges as an indispensable tool to explore and modify materials at nanometric scales.

It is a technique that uses a focused ion beam to sculpt materials with unprecedented precision, eliminating material at the level of individual atoms or molecules. This technique is based on the interaction between high-energy ions and atoms of the target material, which causes the disintegration and elimination of the atoms, leading to the formation of a cavity or three-dimensional structure with the desired shape.

El molecular cutting performance It can be divided into three main stages:

  1. Ion generation: An ion beam is generated by the ionization of atoms or molecules, usually using an ion source such as a sputtering ion gun or a plasma source.
  2. Focus and acceleration: The generated ions are focused and accelerated to high energies, typically in the energy range between keV and MeV, using an optical or electrostatic system. The kinetic energy of the ions determines the depth of penetration into the target material, with the most powerful being able to penetrate several centimeters even into the hardest metals.
  3. Interaction with material: The focused ion beam impacts the target material, interacting with its atoms. This interaction can cause the disintegration and elimination of atoms, leading to the formation of a cavity or three-dimensional structure with the desired shape.

Really the technique is not new, was already used in sectors such as semiconductors for engraving or for the deposition of material, however, the perfection of this equipment has made it possible for it to also make the leap to other industrial sectors, such as those that manufacture complex metal parts, among others.

Molecular cutting is a technique in constant evolution, with great potential to revolutionize various scientific and technological fields. Advances in ion generation, focusing and beam control will enable even higher levels of precision and resolution. Furthermore, the integration of molecular cutting techniques with other microfabrication tools will open new possibilities for the creation of nanometric devices and structures with unprecedented properties and functionalities. These types of devices are becoming faster and cheaper, although they still have prohibitive prices for most mortals, but who knows if one day they will be cheap enough to use at home, or perhaps integrated into future 3D printers to improve additive manufacturing…

Advantages of molecular cutting

Molecular cutting offers a series of advantages over other cutting techniques, such as machining, lithography, etc., such as:

  • extreme precision: allows you to work at nanometer scales, with a resolution of up to a few nanometers.
  • Flexibility- Can be used to sculpt a wide variety of materials, including metals, semiconductors, polymers and even biological materials, as well as for complete cutting.
  • Precise control: allows you to create complex three-dimensional structures with great precision and detail, allowing you to produce advanced parts.
  • no contact: does not require physical contact with the material, which minimizes damage and contamination, as other types of cuts can cause if we see them with a microscope, such as cuts using saws, plasma, etc., all of them leaving behind much more obvious marks, in addition to eliminating a greater amount of material, which means that they do not fit as precisely.

Applications of molecular cutting

The molecular cut finds applications in a wide range of fields, including:

  • nanofabrication- Used to create miniaturized electronic devices, sensors, actuators, and other nanoscale structures, such as MEMS or NEMS devices.
  • Materials science: allows you to study the structure and properties of materials at the nanometric level.
  • biology and medicine: used to manipulate cells, tissues and other biological materials, or perform very precise interventions with little damage.
  • Device repair: allows you to repair defects in electronic devices and other miniaturized components.
  • Art: Given the perfection of these cuts, true works of art can be made, puzzles that fit together perfectly, without visually appearing to have a cut in the piece, like the examples you saw in the first video.

Alternatives

CNC laser cutting and engraving

The molecular cut has other alternatives in the industry, much cheaper, but also with much lower precision. For example, we have to highlight:

  • Lithography: Lithography is a technique widely used in the manufacturing of integrated circuits and other microelectronic devices, as well as MEMS. To make this possible, a machine is used with a pattern that will pass light (there are also alternatives to photolithography such as EBL or electron beam lithography) through it, to change the properties of a photosensitive material, and then attack it. through chemical processes in acid baths, and thus carve the parts you want, even down to the cut. This allows for high resolution, but is also very complex and expensive due to the machinery required if it is to be produced at high resolutions.
  • Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM): is a machining technique that uses electrical discharges to erode material. It is based on the principle that electrical energy is concentrated in a small space, creating a plasma channel that melts and vaporizes the material. The advantages are that they can be applied to a variety of materials, allowing the creation of complex three-dimensional shapes, and it does not require contact like FIB, however, it does not have as high a precision as molecular cutting, its speed is quite slow, and it generates a large amount of heat that can damage sensitive materials.
  • laser cutting: It is a technique that allows cutting also with high precision, although not as much as molecular cuts. It also offers rapid prototyping and complex geometries, but the materials that can be cut and the depths may have limitations.

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