ScienceShot: A Nano-Sized Ski Resort

Unsatisfied with a bar of Toblerone as a memento of the magnificent Matterhorn, researchers have crafted a highly detailed 3D glass replica of the Swiss mountain with a peak that is only 25 nanometers high—the smallest, most complex 3D structure that has ever been carved out of a material. The team built on an existing technique called scanning probe lithography, which employs a probe with a heated, silicon-tip about 5 nanometers wide. The probe carves out a pattern in a material by breaking down its strong chemical bonds. In the new study, the researchers selected a more pliable canvas, organic glass film, in which the molecules are bound by relatively weak hydrogen bonds. This approach offers a more cost-effective method for creating 3D nano-sized objects, the team reports tomorrow in Science, which could help, for example, make the next generation of mobile electronics more affordable.