There’s something magnificent about a mural or a massive statue, but when it comes to art, bigger does not always mean better. In fact, some of the most remarkable pieces of art are so small that they can’t even be seen by the naked eye. Consider this nanoscale nativity scene, or this itty-bitty Wall of China, or this miniscule pyramid. 3D printing has evolved to the point that it can create items of incredible detail at sizes smaller than a human hair, and that’s pretty cool, to put it simply.
Microlight3D is a French company that specializes in bioprinting, two-photon polymerization and 3D microfabrication. In a collaboration with artist Michel Paysant, the company has created what it is calling the smallest sculpture in the world. Paysant, who has exhibited at the Louvre, combines art with technology to create striking visual works including a series of self-portraits. One day, he decided to 3D print his own head. He certainly wouldn’t be the first one to do so, but he didn’t want to create just an ordinary 3D print, so he contacted Microlight3D after 3D scanning himself.
Microlight3D took the high-resolution scan and 3D printed it at a resolution of 0.2 microns, or 0.0002 millimeters. Michel Bouriau, CTO of the company, handled the 3D printing and came up with a work of art so small that it requires a microscope to see. Once you look through that microscope, however, you can easily see the amazing detail in the sculpture, which has a height of 80 microns, or 0.08 millimeters, about the size of an ant’s eye. Never thought much about the size of an ant’s eye? That’s because you can’t see it – not without a microscope.
Microlight3D is a young company that has only been selling its 3D printers since January 2017, but 15 years of research into two-photon polymerization at the University Grenoble-Alpes has led to a great deal of expertise in tiny 3D printing. Nanoscale 3D printing is a technology that is still in development, and it has a lot of potential for next-generation medical treatments, computer applications, aerospace engineering and more.
Just a few months ago, YouTube star James Bruton made the record books for creating the tallest 3D printed sculpture of a human. His statue came in at 3.62 meters, or nearly 12 feet, tall. If you enjoy math, I challenge you to calculate how many of Paysant’s microscopic sculptures could fit on Bruton’s giant one. When Bruton broke the record, it hadn’t been held for very long, and neither had the previous record before that. We’ll see how long Bruton holds it, because 3D printed creations just keep getting bigger and bigger. Size isn’t really a limitation when it comes to 3D printing, so it won’t be surprising if someone else comes up with a smaller sculpture than Paysant’s before long.
Paysant’s nanoscale sculpture will be on display to the public – with microscope handy – at the Artotheque FRAC Limousin New Aquitaine from June 27th to November 3rd.
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