Standing just over one two-thousandth of an inch (.0006 inches), the world’s tiniest home sits on an optical fiber lot that is about a million times smaller than a typical two-story, single-family house. Designed and built by French researchers from the Femto-ST Institute, the micro-home features all the hallmarks of a cozy little residence: gable roof, windows, a chimney and, of course, a front door.
A tiny robot ‘constructed’ the structure in a vacuum chamber, then used an ion beam to slice out the details from an ultra-slim sheet of silica. The key trick was to cut away the sheet such that it would fold itself up into its final house shape. The intersecting structural elements were then welded into play on a lower setting and gas injection created a patterned roof to add some architectural detail.
Nano-bots built this small shelter at a scale that it could house a microscopic organism but not much else — it was modeled to demonstrate their abilities to achieve high precision at incredibly minute scales. “We decided to build the micro-house on the fibre to show that we are able to realise these microsystem assemblies on top of an optical fibre with high accuracy,” said one of the engineers.
And while it sounds like a fun side project to show off new capabilities, the implications are far-reaching. “With this advancement, optical fibres as thin as human hair can be inserted into inaccessible locations like jet engines and blood vessels to detect radiation levels or viral molecules,” says the American Institute of Physics.