New blades cut with ‘atomic sharpness’

UC DAVIS (US) — A better shave, and a cheaper one, may soon be possible thanks to semiconductor manufacturing technology.

A new startup company, Nano-Sharp Inc., plans to use silicon wafers to make razor blades and surgical tools far more cheaply than current silicon or ceramic blades.

It’s one of three new companies in the University of California, Davis, College of Engineering’s incubator, the Engineering Translational Technology Center. The new businesses hope to grow into viable companies that attract private funding.

Nano-Sharp co-founder Saif Islam, professor of electrical and computer engineering, says that inspiration came when his team was working on making solar cells from silicon wafers. They were etching the wafers to create thin vertical walls standing up from the surface.

The new nano-blades could reduce the cost of everyday razors and surgical tools. (Credit: Kevin Tong/UC Davis/Flickr)

“We accidentally made some ‘bad’ walls that were very sharp,” he says. “We realized that we could mount them and use them as blades.”

Ceramic or silicon blades are extremely sharp and keep an edge much longer than metal blades. But they are very expensive, so their use is limited to high-end kitchen knives and surgical tools. For example, a ceramic scalpel for eye surgery costs about $600, Islam says.

Conventional blades are made by sharpening the edge of a silicon wafer, Islam says. In contrast, his new, patented technique creates blades across the surface of the wafer.

The cutting edge of the blade is just a few atoms across, Islam says. “They have atomic sharpness approaching that of a diamond blade that metal blades cannot exhibit.”

The performance of these crystalline blades can be improved using technologies developed by the semiconductor industry over the last 50 years, Islam says.

Islam recently won a Proof of Concept award from the University of California to develop a prototype to attract private investors to back the company.

Co-founders of the company are Logeeswaran V. Jayaraman, postdoctoral researcher in Islam’s laboratory, and David Horsley, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Source: UC Davis