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Final Report Summary - FEMTOPRINT (FEMTOSECOND LASER PRINTER FOR GLASS MICROSYSTEMS WITH NANOSCALE FEATURES)



Executive Summary:

The Femtoprint project, completed in May 2013, was to develop a printer for microsystems with nano-scale features fabricated out of glass.

Recent researches have shown that one can form three-dimensional patterns in glass material using low-power femtosecond laser beam. This simple process opens interesting new opportunities for a broad variety of microsystems with feature sizes down to the nano-scale. These patterns can be used to form integrated optics components or be ‘developed’ by chemically etching to form three-dimensional structures like fluidic channels and micro-mechanical components. Worth noticing, sub-micron resolution can be achieved and sub-pattern smaller than the laser wavelength can be formed. Thanks to the low-energy required to pattern the glass, femtosecond laser consisting simply of an oscillator are sufficient to produce such micro- and nano- systems.

Our ultimate goal is to provide a large pool of users from industry, research and universities with the capability of producing their own micro-systems, in a rapid-manner without the need for expensive infrastructures and specific expertise.

Femtoprint largely fulfilled its objectives and beyond.

Over the last three years, as the main technological objective, a prototype of table-top Femtoprinter has been developed. This prototype will now be commercialized by a company, spin-off of the project. Important progress were made in understanding the physics of the process and in exploring the applications of the Femtoprint process.

Highlighted applications demonstrated in the project were the first demonstration of algae biochips, first transparent actuators, novel polarization converter to create optical vortices, new moulding processes and the demonstration of 5D optical memory. The later was quite a success in term of disseminating the project concept and raising awareness about femtosecond laser processing of glass.

The project Femtoprint received considerable attention worldwide and has been featured in many websites as well as newspapers such as the Telegraph, the Huffington Post or the Independent and renown technical journals such as L’Usine Nouvelle, Laser Focus World, Photonics Spectra, etc. Some of the scientific publications were further highlighted in Applied Physics Letters or Physics Today. From a scientific dissemination output, 21 journal papers related to Femtoprint have been published in high impact journals. Numerous regular and invited talks about results of the project were given in conferences such as CLEO and SPIE Photonics West.

At the EuroNanoForum in Dublin, Ireland, in June 2013, the project was awarded a ‘Best Research Project Award Finalist’.

Project website: http://www.femtoprint.eu/

Project Context and Objectives:

FEMTOPRINT objective was to develop a printer for microsystems with nano-scale features fabricated out of glass.

Our ultimate goal is to provide a large pool of users from industry, research and universities with the capability of producing their own micro-systems, in a rapid-manner without the need for expensive infrastructures and specific expertise.

Recent researches have shown that one can form three-dimensional patterns in glass material using low-power femtosecond laser beam. This simple process opens interesting new opportunities for a broad variety of microsystems with feature sizes down to the nano-scale. These patterns can be used to form integrated optics components or be ‘developed’ by chemically etching to form three-dimensional structures like fluidic channels and micro-mechanical components. Worth noticing, sub-micron resolution can be achieved and sub-pattern smaller than the laser wavelength can be formed. Thanks to the low-energy required to pattern the glass, femtosecond laser consisting simply of an oscillator are sufficient to produce such micro- and nano- systems.

These systems are nowadays table-top and cost a fraction of conventional clean-room equipments. It is highly foreseeable that within 3 to 5 years such laser systems will fit in a shoe-box.

The project main objectives were to:

1/ Develop a femtosecond laser suitable for glass micro-/nano- manufacturing that fits in a shoe-box

2/ Integrate the laser in a machine similar to a printer that can position and manipulate glass sheets of various thicknesses

3/ Demonstrate the use of the printer to fabricate a variety of micro-/nano-systems with optical, mechanical and fluid-handling capabilities. A clear and measurable outcome of Femtoprint will be to be in a situation to commercialize the ‘femtoprinter’ through the setting-up of a consortium spin-off. The potential economical impact is large and is expected in various industrial sectors.

Project Results:

Important Note: We invite the reader to consult the relevant 'Final Report' and 'Mid-Term Report' deliverables - as agreed in the description of work - that contains a much detail description with pictures and figures to better appreciate the achievements of Femtoprint. Here, we summarize, only with text, the main S&T results of the project.
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The Femtoprint team has demonstrated both science and technology objectives as initially foreseen in the scope of work as well as new results that goes beyond what was initially planned.

Main technological results:
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The main outcome has been the demonstration of a desktop printer capable of 3D-printing of microsystems in glass substrate. The printer fits on a table and is made of two main components. The body of the printer, that contains positioning stages and other optical elements (such as a dedicated scanning system developed for the project) and the compact laser source that provides the required femtosecond light pulses that allows modifying the glass in the three dimensions and anywhere within the glass volume.

The body of the printer contains compact, low-cost positioning stages capable of moving any glass substrates in a plane (X-Y axis) under a the laser objectives. The range motion is typically 10 cm x 10 cm. The technology used for the positioning stages is based on piezoelectric motors that provide long range motion with yet very high resolution (sub-micron). This positioning platform was extensively characterized and optimized for the task. The beam positioning along the z-axis is achieved by a flexure-based, high accuracy linear axis developed by one of the project SME.

A dedicated scanner head was developed for the purpose of the project. The idea was to provide some novel approach for achieving large surface exposure at high speed. An innovative concept was found, based on wedge prisms and fast rotating motors. This innovation has been published in a journal paper (IJO) and presented at an international conference (ISOT). Additional elements are integrated in the body of the printer, such optical elements to control the optical power as well as the polarization of the beam, a key parameters when writing patterns and to tune the efficiency of the process. In addition to the mechanical and optical components of the printer, an interface was developed to interface all the various components with a computer generated drawing or trajectories.

The laser source is one of the remarkable achievement of the project. It features an ultra-compact laser source yet capable of delivering the required pulse energies (up to a 1uJ) repetition rates (up to 2.5-3 MHz) and pulse duration (<300fs). It largely fulfills the initial specification and fits in a smaller volume than initially expected (a shoebox) and therefore, exceeds our initial objectives. Worth noticing, the laser source has greatly benefited from the synergistic interactions between the three SMEs, partners of the project. In particular, dedicated novel electronics was developed allowing a significant increase of the energy efficiency and further reduction of the volume needed for the laser source. Some aspects related to the laser source have been presented at various conferences.

As a demonstration of this success, the laser source in addition to be commercialized with the Femtoprint by the Femtoprint spin-off (FEMTOprint) from the project, is also now a product sell by Amplitude Systèmes for applications outside the applications covered by FEMTOprint.

The most tangible sign of success of these technological development is the direct commercialization of the project outcome, through the FEMTOprint company, a direct spin-off of the project.

In addition to these results that concern mainly the Femtoprinter itself, the team has also investigated some prototype demonstrations for industrial sectors pertinent for the SMEs involved in the project, namely electronics and sensors and mechanical components. A large number of journal and conference papers have been published related to the applications for the process. Some of these applications (and related publications) received a very significant press coverage, not only in specialized journals (Physics Today, Photonics Spectra, Laser Focus World, Usine Nouvelle, etc.) but also in general media (The Independant, etc.).

Some of the most noticed developments were the demonstration of a first transparent actuator and the concept of '5D' optical memory (nicknamed 'Superman' memory by the Press) capable of very long term storage exceeding thousands of years. A novel optical component was also developed in the frame of the project and has been patented. This patent has been licensed to a Lithuanian company that commercializes the component.

* The science objectives of Femtoprint were to demonstrate novel aspects of the femtosecond laser-matter interactions, particularly relevant for further developing the Femtoprint process and expanding it to other substrates and materials. Among the most important results are the demonstration of the relation between stress and etching rate, the evidences of writing anisotropies such pulse-front tilt and its role as a process parameter. Additional objectives were to investigate the role of the pulse duration (picosecond versus femtosecond) as well as other key laser exposure parameters such the energy deposited.

All the scientific results have been published in high impact factor journals (such as Applied Physics Letters and Optics Express) and received some significant attentions as can testify the number of invited talks (>5) given by the team members in charge of coordinating the 'science' effort.

Potential Impact:

The impact of Femtoprint is already visible at various levels:

1/ The most important socio-economic impact is the implementation of a spin-off company of the project (FEMTOprint) that started its activities, a few months after the end of the project. The main outcome of the project, a femtoprinter, is now a product that can be purchased. The new company (officially started in Oct. 2013) has successfully concluded a first investments round (>250 kCHF) to be followed-up by committed similar amounts. SMEs involved in the project are actively supporting the new company, through OEM components providers and strategic partnerships.

In addition, the laser developed in the project is also a separate commercial product by Amplitude Systèmes (one of the SME involved in the project) to be commercialized for market sectors outside the Femtoprinter market. This product contains also some of the new electronics developments (from Quintenz) which demonstrates the synergies and the leverage of the European dimension of the project. In addition, an optical component developed using and thanks to the femtoprint process is now patented and has been licensed to a European company (Altechna) that commercializes the product as can be seen in their components catalog. This further emphasizes the commercial and technical relevance of the project.

These commercialization results are immediate outcome of the project as visible, about six months since the end of the project.

2/ Dissemination activities took place from the start of the project and culminated by the presentation of the printer to one of the biggest world wide technical exhibitions in the field of optics (Photonics West). Dissemination is also continuing since the end of the project (like for instance the participation of the project leader to the NMP conference in Vilnius in October 2013.

Dissemination activities took different forms:

- Internet: A website was rapidly put in place (www.femtoprint.eu) and was the workhorse for announcing new results, for publishable materials and press releases. It has been quite significantly used and will remain active for at least a year.

- Participation to exhibitions: Apart from the trade show mentioned above, the Femtoprinter was also demonstrated in Brussels for the Innovation Convention in 2011. In addition, the SMEs participating in the project also advertized the project in various trade-shows such as CLEO Europe, CLEO America, Micronora, etc.

- Various articles appeared in the general media as well as the specialized and technology-oriented magazines

- The coordinator gave several invited talks to explain the project at various occasion and around the world (USA, Japan, Europe).

As a welcomed reward for the project, the Femtoprint project received the EuroNanoForum Best Project Finalist Award as part of the EuroNanoForum in Dublin, Ireland. The project coordinator (Yves Bellouard, TU/e) prepared a series of dissemination activities at this occasion, including a short 2-min video introduction.

List of Websites:

The Femtoprint project: http://www.femtoprint.eu/

the Femtoprint spin-off company (FEMTOprint): http://www.femtoprint.ch/


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