Using Shrinky Dinks for SANE nanopatterning

I’m charmed. Scientists at a Northwestern University laboratory have taken to using a children’s arts and crafts product, Shrinky Dinks, for a new way to create large area nanoscale patterns on the cheap. First, something more about the Shrinky Dinks (from their website),

We are the Originators and Manufacturers of SHRINKY DINKS shrinkable plastics.

The very first SHRINKY DINKS were sold on October 17, 1973 at Brookfield Square Shopping Mall in Brookfield Wisconsin. Since that time there has been over 250 different Toy Activity and Craft Kits created and marketed.

SHRINKY DINKS SHRINK to approximately 1/3rd their original size and actually become 9 times thicker. Simply place the SHRINKY DINKS piece you created into a Home Oven or Toaster Oven for 2 magic minutes. Watch as your creation gets smaller and smaller.

It’s “MAGICAL” and it’s so quick and easy to do!

There’s also a video (sadly I can’t embed it here)  about the origins, some very simple science, and ideas on how to use Shrinky Dinks.

As for the scientists, there’s no word on how they decided to use this  product for their work (from the news item on,

“Anyone needing access to large-area nanoscale patterns on the cheap could benefit from this method,” said Teri W. Odom, associate professor of chemistry and Dow Chemical Company Research Professor in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Odom led the research. “It is a simple, low-cost and high-throughput nanopatterning method that can be done in any laboratory.”

Details of the solvent-assisted nanoscale embossing (SANE) method are published by the journal Nano Letters. The work also will appear as the cover story of the journal’s February 2011 issue.

The method offers unprecedented opportunities to manipulate the electronic, photonic and magnetic properties of nanomaterials. It also easily controls a pattern’s size and symmetry and can be used to produce millions of copies of the pattern over a large area. Potential applications include devices that take advantage of nanoscale patterns, such as solar cells, high-density displays, computers and chemical and biological sensors.

“No other existing nanopatterning method can both prototype arbitrary patterns with small separations and reproduce them over six-inch wafers for less than $100,” Odom said.

ETA Aug. 17, 2010: I emailed the originator of Shrinky Dinks, Betty J. Morris asking her how she came up with the name for her product yesterday. Here is her very kind reply,

You were wondering how we came up with the name Shrinky Dinks…To be honest, we were trying to come up with a name that would describe the process…the pieces “shrink” and they become “small”… what are words that mean small…one of the words we came up with was “dinky”…we thought of Shrink Dinky…Shrink Dinkies…Shrinkie Dinkies but ultimately liked the sound of Shrinky Dinks…it was just trying out different words that we thought might be unique and worthy of getting a Trademark…our product has now been on the market 37 years…we have Shrinky Dinks Trademarks in 42 different countries and there have been over 250 different SD kits created and marketed over the years…who would have ever imagined such a success story… not me…that’s for sure!

The story reminds me of how one writes a poem, playing with words.  As Betty says it is a remarkable story and, for me, the science (nanopaterning)/kid’s play (Shrinky Dinks) connection is the best part.

ETA Aug.17.10: I also contacted Teri W. Odom, professor at Northwestern University about why they use Slinky Dinks in their work. She very kindly responded with this:

Part of what we are interested in is the development of low-cost nanofabrication tools that can create macroscale areas of nanoscale patterns in a single step. For a variety of reasons, this end-product is hard to obtain—even though we and others have chipped away at this problem for years.

As an example, to achieve smaller and smaller separations between patterns, either expensive, top-down serial tools (such as electron beam lithography or scanning probe techniques) or bottom-up assembly methods need to be used. However, the former cannot easily create large areas of patterns, and the latter cannot readily control the separations of patterns.

We needed a way to obtain nanopatterns separated by specific distances on-demand. Here is where the Shrinky Dinks material comes in. My student had read a paper (published in 2007 in Lab on a Chip) about how this material was used to make microscale patterns starting from a pattern printed using a laser printer. I imagine his thought was: if this material could be used for microscale patterns, why not for nanoscale ones? It would be cheap, and it’s easy to order.

So, we combined this substrate with our new molding method—solvent assisted nanoscale embossing (SANE)—and could now heat the material to shrink the spacing between patterns. And thus, in some sense, we made available to any lab some of the capabilities of the billion-dollar nanofabrication industry for less than one-hundred dollars.

There is something pleasing about using an everyday, inexpensive product for high end technology. Brava!

ETA Aug.23.10: Michael Berger has written an in depth article at Nanoterk on this type of nanofabrication which includes an interview with Teri Odom.

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