World's smallest Christmas record measures only 40 microns in diameter

Would you like to listen to a Christmas song on a 40-micrometer record?
Nergis Firtina
The World's smallest Christmas record.
The World's smallest Christmas record.

DTU Physics 

One of the essential things that reflect the Christmas spirit is songs and carols. How about listening to these on a 40-micrometer record?

Technical University of Denmark (DTU) researchers have created the world's smallest record involving the first 25 seconds of the Christmas classic "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree." The single was cut via a new nano-sculpting machine, the Nanofrazor, recently acquired from Heidelberg Instruments.

According to the press release, the researchers' ability to generate new nanostructures with the Nanofrazor, which can etch 3D patterns into surfaces with nanoscale resolution, may open the door for cutting-edge technology in areas like electron optics, magnetic sensors, and quantum devices.

" I have done lithography for 30 years, and although we've had this machine for a while, it still feels like science fiction. We've done many experiments, like making a copy of the Mona Lisa in a 12 by 16-micrometre area with a pixel size of ten nanometers. We've also printed an image of DTU's founder – Hans Christian Ørsted – in an eight by 12-micrometer size with a pixel size of 2.540.000 DPI. To get an idea of the scale we are working at, we could write our signatures on a red blood cell with this thing," said Professor Peter Bøggild from DTU Physics.

“The most radical thing is that we can create free-form 3D landscapes at that crazy resolution – this grey-scale nanolithography is a true game-changer for our research," he added.

It works like a CNC

Rather than a printer adding material, the Nanofrazor works like a computer numerical control machine (CNC), which removes material at specific locations. Furthermore, it gives the desired shape to the target material.

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"We decided that we might as well try and print a record. We've taken a snippet of Rocking Around The Christmas Tree and have cut it just like you would cut a normal record—although, since we're working on the nanoscale, this one isn't playable on your average turntable. The Nanofrazor was put to work as a record-cutting lathe – converting an audio signal into a spiraled groove on the surface of the medium."

"In this case, the medium is a different polymer than vinyl. We even encoded the music in stereo – the lateral wriggles is the left channel, whereas the depth modulation contains the right channel. It may be too impractical and expensive to become a hit record. To read the groove, you need a rather costly atomic force microscope or the Nanofrazor, but it is definitely doable," Bøggild explained.

The Nanofrazor idea was made feasible by the NOVO Foundation grant BIOMAG, which has nothing to do with printing pictures of celebrities or breaking Christmas records. Tim Booth and Nolan Lassaline, two of Peter Bggild's coworkers, have other ideas. They anticipate that the Nanofrazor will make it feasible for them to quickly and cheaply create 3D nanostructures in incredibly fine detail, which is currently not possible with available equipment.

"We work with 2D materials, and when these ultrathin materials are carefully laid down on the 3D landscapes, they follow the contours of the surface. In short, they curve, and that is a powerful and entirely new way of 'programming' materials to do things that no one would believe were possible just fifteen years ago. For instance, when curved in just the right way, graphene behaves as if there is a giant magnetic field when there is, in fact, none. And we can curve it just the right way with the Nanofrazor," said Peter Bøggild.