The University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Physics (NIP) through its Instrumentation Physics Laboratory has figured out how to miniaturize the Oblation (University of the Philippines’ trademark) using femtosecond-pulse near-infrared laser. The light-sculptured three-dimensional microscopic Oblation measures around 20 micrometers in length and 10 micrometers in width. The miniaturization of the Oblation is part of Wavefront Engineering Team’s (WET) research project on micro-fabrication of functional micro-devices using non-linear multi-photon absorption. The research intends to fabricate structures in the micrometer scale with the final aim of using the micro-structures as components in an integrated miniaturized laboratory or a micro-machine functioning under a microscope.
The WET is headed by Dr. Vincent Ricardo Daria, Associate Professor at NIP, and is composed of researchers and students, namely: Dr. Darwin Palima (Adjunct Professor), Godofredo Bautista (Ph.D Physics student), Anthony Montecillo (MS Material Science and Engineering student), Jacqueline Romero (MS Physics student), Andrew Banas (BS Physics student), Atchong Hilario (BS Applied Physics student) and Reniel Cabral (BS Applied Physics student). Joaquin Jose Escay who graduated BS Applied Physics in March 2006 also did significant programming work for the project.
The micro-oblation is a solid plastic formed by light, which is used to chisel the sculpture. According to Dr. Daria, the miniaturization of the Oblation is a way to test the resolution of their micro-fabrication system. When asked why they chose to miniaturize UP’s trademark, Daria said “pag-paliit ng oble nagpapatunay na gawa natin ito dito sa UP” (fabrication of the micro-oblation demonstrates that this micro-structure was built here in UP.)
WET’s goal is to use light-sculptured devices as components in a miniaturized micro-laboratory. After the fabrication process, the micro-components can also be actuated by light. Light is a form of energy and therefore has momentum. When the momentum of light is transferred to the light-sculptured micro-components, these components will move and become a part of a micro-machine. Hence, using these miniaturized components, WET will make micro-machines fabricated and controlled by light.
The miniaturization and fabrication of components is just an intermediate step in building a scientific breakthrough. The research is expected to produce a scientific tool to be used by biologists and chemists. This tool would help the scientists have a more controlled environment in conducting experiments. According to Dr. Daria, most of the experiments are done in bulk or in macro-scale and so data gathering and analysis is usually achieved via statistical methods. In doing the experiment using a smaller (microscopic) scale, the interactions and chemical reactions would be more localized and can aid in major scientific breakthroughs.
WET is now in the stage of testing and fabricating components. In the long run, the researchers want to have these components compiled in their system and eventually create micro-machines.
The research project is funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology, Research and Development (DOST-PCASTARD). Dr. Daria also received a grant amounting to P 2.3M from DOST-Institutional Development Program for setting up a system for programmable phase using a spatial light modulator – an essential component of the project that can also be used for other research ventures. UP provided the femtosecond-pulse Titanium: Sapphire laser, which is the near-infrared light source for micro-fabrication.