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Have MIT Researchers Taken Us One-step Closer to Making a Shrinking Superhero Suit a Reality?

On the big screen, some of our favorite superheroes can shrink to the size of a tiny insect or toy thanks to a little Hollywood magic. But what if science could make it happen in real life?

MIT engineers may have taken us one step closer by recently sharing how to create 3-D nanoscale objects of nearly any shape. These tiny nanoscale structures could have applications in many fields, from optics to healthcare to robotics.

But how does it work? MIT researchers first create a detailed model of a larger structure and embed it in polyacrylate, an absorbent material you find in diapers. They then soak the structure that they want to shrink in a special solution. After adding an acid to the mix, researchers can shrink the entire structure down to the nanoscale. The researchers also found that they can use lasers to fine tune the properties of the final product by adding metals, DNA molecules, or other substances.

The new 3-D nanoscale object created from the researchers’ process is smaller than the eye can see. Nanotechnology comprises the study of matter at an incredibly small scale, generally between one and 100 nanometers. For example, a piece of paper is 100,000 nanometers thick, and a single red blood cell is about 7,000 nanometers in diameter. Learn more about just how small a nanometer really is. 

The MIT researchers say their technique for creating 3-D nanoscale size items uses equipment that many biology and materials science labs already have, making it widely accessible for other researchers who want to try it.

With this discovery and others on the horizon, nanotechnology has sizeable potential. In fact, nanotechnology has already changed our world in other remarkable ways. For example, another recent MIT study revealed that nanotechnology could help diagnose bacterial pneumonia and help detect different types of cancers, potentially enabling earlier diagnosis and treatment.

From innovations that could help treat strokes and spinal cord injuries, to creating solutions for clean drinking water, nanotechnology is helping us tackling some of our world’s most critical challenges. Alongside these efforts, the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Nanotechnology Panel is at the forefront of guiding the responsible development of nanotechnologies domestically and internationally by advocating for a scientifically sound approach to nanotechnology policy.

To learn more about the Nanotechnology Panel or to inquire about joining the panel, contact Jay West at jay_west@americanchemistry.com.

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