From a tiny sub packed with scientists in Fantastic Voyage to miniature Rick Moranis in Honey I Shrunk the Kids and most recently with Antman going to the quantum realm in the Avengers movies, shrinking shit to small size has been a mainstay of sci-fi for years. And now, my pals down the road at MIT have moved us a step closer to that reality. One might say, "one small step." #rimshot

So, it's not exactly DIRECT miniaturization of objects. The scientists who came up with the process call it "implosion fabrication" and it's more like 3D photocopying with the shrink setting on your machine set to 1/1000. How does it work? I'm glad you asked!

First, credit to the smarty pants types who came up with the shrink ray: Edward Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology and an associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT is one pendejo, and Adam Marblestone, an MIT Media Lab research affiliate, is the other. (Their paper came out Dec 14 in Science.) The lead authors are graduate students Daniel Oran and Samuel Rodriques. Now, here comes the science!

Start with a very absorbent material that will serve as the scaffold for the tiny object that will result in the end. These guys used one of the ingredients found in disposable diapers to capture baby pee. Next, soak the scaffold in a solution that contains molecules of fluorescein. Fluorescein is not the latest toothpaste additive, but a molecule that is a fluorescent dye and can be tracked easily by a microscope. Further, once attached to the scaffold, you can zap it with a laser and activate the molecule. In this case, "activating" means, attaching the molecule exactly where you want. That part is a bit technical and involves microscopy and talented PhD types, but the main point is that you end up with the fluorescein molecules just where you want them in the scaffold. These become anchor points in the scaffold.

"You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors," Boyden says. "It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle."

That's the next step. Add the desired molecules to the right locations, and then shrink the entire structure by adding an acid. The acid blocks the negative charges in the absorbent gel so they no longer repel each other. This causes the gel and therefore the whole structure to contract. Using this technique, science peeps can shrink the objects they assemble 10-fold in each dimension. Three dimensions, so 10-fold times three means you can shrink something to 1/1000th its original size. This ability to shrink not only allows for increased resolution, but also makes it possible to assemble materials in a low-density scaffold. This enables easy access for modification, and later the material becomes a dense solid when it is shrunk.

Here's a photo of a thingamajig they built, before shrinking it:

Daniel Oran

Here's a diagram of the process in case my description was too shitty:

From the Science paper

The potential uses for this new tech are still unknown, but early applications target optics applications where one could make smaller but better lenses for microscopes and other camera-like devices. Obviously, you could make leaps in nano-delivery of medicine. It would be easier with implosion fabrication to manufacture a submarine-like machine with different compartments for chemotherapies targeting hard-to-reach tumors in a patient. Build it in a small but manageable size to manufacture and then shrink it with this new technique! Cool stuff, my pendejos!

Now that we're on the path to shrinking things, just remember that in science there is always a dark side. I'll just leave you with Dr. Martin's cautionary words:

"I know I shouldn't get small when I'm drivin', but, uh, I was drivin' around the other day, you know and a cop pulls me over. And he goes, 'Hey, are you small?' I said, 'No, I'm tall, I'm tall.' He said, 'Well, I'm gonna have to measure you.' They've got a little test they give you; it's a balloon, and if you can get inside of it, they know... you're small. And they can't put you in a regular cell either, because you walk right out."

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Carlos Sagan

I am a biochemist MexiCAN. I also write screenplays, ever hoping to get one made.

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follow me at: @RealCarlosSagan


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