Scientists claim to have created the world's smallest three dimensional map -- a map of the Earth so small that 1,000 of them could fit on one grain of salt.
A team at computer giant IBM accomplished this through a new, breakthrough technique which uses a tiny, silicon tip with a sharp apex -- 100,000 times smaller than a sharpened pencil -- to create patterns and structures as small as 15 nanometers at greatly reduced cost and complexity.
According to the scientists, this patterning technique opens new prospects for developing nanosised objects in fields such as electronics, future chip technology, medicine, life sciences, and optoelectronics.
The complete 3D map of the world measuring only 22 by 11 micrometers was "written" on a polymer. At this size, 1,000 world maps could fit on a grain of salt.
It is composed of 500,000 pixels, each measuring 20 nm2, and was created in only 2 minutes and 23 seconds, the Science and Advanced Materials journal reported.
The core component of the new technique, which was developed by a team of IBM scientists, is a tiny, very sharp silicon tip measuring 500 nanometers in length and only a few nanometers at its apex.
"Advances in nanotechnology are intimately linked to the existence of high-quality methods and tools for producing nanoscale patterns and objects on surfaces," said physicist Dr Armin Knoll of IBM Research in Zurich.
"With its broad functionality and unique 3D patterning capability, this nanotip-based patterning methodology is a powerful tool for generating very small structures," he added.