World’s tiniest fidget spinner is smaller than the width of a single human hair

It’s been quite a year for fidget spinners. Not only have the tiny whirligig toys sold enough units to keep a small country afloat, but they’ve also been embraced by the scientific community. Last month, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik shared a video of him using a fidget spinner in a nearly weightless environment. This month, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences unveiled the world’s tiniest fidget spinner, which measures just 100 microns wide, or one tenth of a millimeter.

“We set out to make a small fidget spinner as a way to demonstrate one of our more unique capabilities, which is a photon-based 3D printing system that can make extremely small 3D structures,” Dr. Adam Rondinone, senior staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told Digital Trends. “This system uses convergent laser light to photopolymerize a viscous liquid into a solid with high spatial fidelity. We use it for a variety of scientific projects, including micromechanical structures and microfluidics. The spinner was a demonstration that was meant to be of popular and scientific interest. These demonstrations always require some actual science, and in the process of learning how to make this spinner, we also learned design principles that we are applying to other microscale devices.”

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Perhaps understandably, developing a nanoscale fidget spinner wasn’t exactly easy. Rondinone said that the biggest challenge was learning how to fabricate the spinner structure around the stationary hub at such a tiny size. This is because the spinner must be free to move, and can’t be be anchored to the surface, as would normally be the approach.

“We made the spinner component independent of the surface, which in our case is a piece of monocrystalline silicon,” Rondinone said. “That required fine control of the structure and the print rate in order to minimize drift of the structure during the print. We can now do this very reliably.”

If you’d like to have a look at the fidget spinner, the team reportedly plans to include an interactive microscopic fidget spinner exhibit as part of the labs’ Traveling Science Fair. What better way to grab the attention of the world’s next generation of scientists?