Bronville

It’s 2:30pm. The second hand clacks loudly every few seconds as it lurches forwards against the clock-face on the wall of the 3D nano-printing lab. Students wait impatiently as their work-pieces are being printed.

Clack.

The printers hum quietly as they carve tiny channels into a plastic substrate, then fill those channels with a silvery fluid.

Clack.

One student coughs nervously, causing the others to turn to her and scowl disapprovingly.

Clack.

Students look at their tablet displays tensely watching the progress of their creations.

Clack.

Bronwyn Gallagher grins with relief as the print head rounds a tricky bend without creating a crack in any of the adjacent channels. The channels themselves are tens of atoms thick.

Clack.

Orville Braithwaite scratches his head and yawns.

Clack.

Bronwyn stretches her arms back behind her back – her lean gymnast’s muscles stretched taut.

Clack.

Orville is tall to Bronwyn’s spry short frame but he is seated, while she stands. He exhales sharply as Bronwyn whips her arms – still stretched behind her back – around to clock him gently on the back of the head.

Clack.

“Show-off” she says as she gazes at his tablet screen. The channels on his substrate are crossing each other. Still cooling metallic deposition trails cross each other and catch. She marvels at the simplicity of his woven design.

Clack.

“Ssh.” He says – distractedly waving a protective arm behind him to defend himself from further attacks. His eyes don’t leave the screen of his tablet.

Clack.

The purpose of his printed prototype is becoming clear to Bronwyn now. It’s a long, looped net, somewhat like a Chinese finger trap – but at molecular scale.

Clack.

Orville looks relieved and peeks at Bronwyn’s tablet. There are no connections in her design, no welds in the thin metal trail like his own workpiece has. It has a regular geometric design however, sharp, reinforced corners all pre-stressed with a specific angular tension. “Ooooh,” he says as he realizes the genius of her design. It’s also a net, but is also a spring that will snap fast around sufficiently massive molecule that touches it.

Clack.

“Hey Bron… Nice work! That’s super efficient design!”

Clack.

“Thanks! I didn’t realise we could weld the strands, so I came at it from a different angle.” She blushes at the praise.

Clack.

“Cool,” he responds, genuine in his appreciation. Distracted now, his arm has fallen below his waist. She clocks him again.

Clack.

“What was that for!?”
“Making me blush.”
She twists her torso counter-clockwise, then flips her torso back around and clocks him again.

Clack.

The lab supervisor scowls at them. Orville starts sketching a different design on his tablet, partially replacing the unprinted paths in his design with quick additions.

Clack.

Fascinated, Bronwyn watches his deft strokes with the stylus. “What…?”

Clack.

Another student looks over curiously. It’s Alvin Chang, a friend of Orville’s from his computer science class, who Orville convinced to take molecular engineering as an extra credit class. “What the…?”

Clack.

Orville smiles bashfully as his work-piece nears completion. He has added a number of long, angular, jointed strands to the bottom of his net – similar to the single long pre-stressed strand that Bronwyn designed.

Clack.

Other students start wandering over to see what fuss is about.

Clack.

Bronwyn has unhooked her hands behind behind her back and is preparing to punch her boyfriend for stealing her design, then realises what his additions are for.

Clack.

“No way!”
“Get out…”
“Faaaark…”
Other students are starting to grok what Orville’s workpiece will do.
“Okay… Get back to your own benches.” It’s Professor Wendt, shooing the other students away.

Clack.

A weak organic acid begins to dissolve the substrate and Orville and Bronwyn’s workpieces come free from their plastic prison.

Clack.

As the other students return to their own workstations, Wendt whispers to them both: “Braithwaite, Gallagher… Nice work!”

Clack.

The workpieces finally fall free of the plastic and are teased away by microscopic machine actuated tweezers.

Clack.

Each workpiece is dropped into a small dish of water. Bronwyn wants to punch Orville but all eyes are on the pair now. Professor Wendt’s praise is not easily earned.

Clack.

Everyone brings their floating workpieces to the front of the class, where the Professor asks each student to explain their workpiece while viewing it on a microscope attached to a large monitor. There are three slinky springs, five students who have inscribed their signatures, two who have created criss-crossing strata of metal layers that model the paths of a semi-conductor and four woven metal cables.

Left to last, Wendt asks Orville and Bronwyn to explain the form or function of their workpieces.

Bronwyn yanks a single hair from her head and drops it into the field of the microscope. When the hair touches her workpiece, the spring is triggered and the metal twists shut into a tight sphere – bending the hair as it does so, snagging it into a tight spherical bundle just micrometers in diameter.

“It’s basically a spring-loaded molecular trap,” she says – a little nervous at the attention. “I figure that at a slightly smaller scale, you could use it to snag and effectively imprison something like a virus or bacterial cell.”

Wendt nods, impressed. He pats her gently on the back and leans close to her as she prepares to step back to where her classmates are watching. “You need to patent that,” he whispers. Her eyes widen, and she turns to him for confirmation of what she just heard. He nods fervently to drive the point home as she steps away.

“And your creation, Mister Braithwaite?”

Orville grins and pulls a hair of his own from his head and drops it into the solution where his work-piece waits. The long pre-tensioned tentacles of his nano-device snag against the hair and pull it up into the base of the net, which then clamps shut around it, shredding it into tiny pieces. By way of explanation, he simply says “Virus shredder.”

The other students look at Orville in surprise and admiration. Professor Wendt tries not to smile too broadly, and ends up just smirking at his new star student. “You, miss Gallagher and I are going to have a chat about your future Mister Braithwaite. You are both going to do some exciting things in nanotechnology.”

-=o0o=-

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