Nanoscribe GmbH, together with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), specifically its Institute of Nanotechnology (INT) and Innovation Management department, were awarded the Technology Transfer Prize of the DPG (German Physics Association) for successfully transferring research findings into economically successful and useful products.
Nanoscribe, a spin-off of KIT, generated sales in the double-digit millions in 2017 with its high-resolution laser lithography 3D printers for nano- and micromanufacturing.
Established in 2007, the company quickly went from a niche segment in science to a global leader in a booming high-tech market. Interest in precision printers is high in the research and industry communities: “More than 150 of our systems are in use today in over 30 countries worldwide. We started with just four employees and currently have a team of 60,” says Martin Hermatschweiler, CEO and co-founder. The company plans to relocate in late 2019 to the 30-million-euro ZEISS Innovation Hub at KIT. “With this Hub, in close proximity to KIT, Karlsruhe continues to offer companies like Nanoscribe an ideal setting for innovation and successful growth,” Hermatschweiler adds.
A disruptive technology in application
In 3D laser lithography, a computer-controlled laser beam cures structures within a photoresist whose smallest features measure less than a thousandth of a millimeter. The technology is capable, for instance, of printing highly stable materials out of miniature lattices or frameworks, minute and precise optical lenses, diffractive optics, as well as tiny matrices for growing cells in environments that closely replicate the human body. The process was originally developed to fabricate photonic crystals that can be given customized optical properties. Martin Wegener, Professor at KIT’s Institute of Applied Physics and Head of its Institute of Nanotechnology, soon realized that it could essentially be used to manufacture virtually any complex, three-dimensional microstructure. The creation of Nanoscribe GmbH allowed this 3D printing tool to be further developed to suit a wide variety of applications, while also taking into account economic considerations.
Emerging applications, rapidly becoming reality, include printed micromachines for transporting immobile – but otherwise healthy – sperm, lenses no wider than a human hair attached to glass fibers for minimally invasive endoscopy, and even optical cloaking devices.