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Sculpting Technology Is No Bull

Microscopic three-dimensional computer memories and sensors are just two potential uses of a new sculpting technique invented by Japanese researchers.
Microscopic three-dimensional computer memories and sensors are just two potential uses of a new sculpting technique invented by Japanese researchers. The technique, called two-photon micropolymerization, involves using a pair of laser beams to sculpt objects down to a resolution of 120 billionths of a meter, according to the latest edition of the journal Nature.

Satoshi Kawata and researchers at Osaka University sculpted a microscopic bull statue as a proof of concept. The bull, which is the size of a red blood cell--approximately 10 micrometers from head to tail--was sculpted out of resin, which solidifies wherever the two laser beams cross.

The technology is still too new to be used for its intended applications in computing and medicine. The time needed to build microscopic objects could be a problem, says University of Oxford chemist Bob Denning. But he points out that the resolution of the objects sculpted using this technique is remarkable. "It'll be very tough to get better," he says.

The Japanese researchers hope that doctors could one day use their techniques to build micromachines to treat disease in patients by traveling through human bodies, Fantastic Voyage style. Says researcher Hong-Bo Sun, "We dream that this bull pulls a drug cart through the blood vessels."