Impossible objects made possible
Can an "impossible object" be 3D printed, even impossibly small?
19 December, 2018by
Impossible objects made possible
Claudia Frey

Zurich |

The answer is: Yes, if you take an impossible object design and combine it with micro 3d printing technology. A metallic impossible object at the size of a red blood cell is born.

An impossible object is a rigid structure that appears to have an entirely different shape when seen from different perspectives. These objects - classified as impossible - have now reached another impossible state: They are printed out of solid copper in three sizes, ranging from a tiny 0.1-mm-diameter, to a very tiny 0.03-mm-diameter to an extremely tiny 0.01-mm-diameter. This size of 0.01 mm or 10 micrometers is comparable to the size of a red blood cell.

Professor Kokichi Sugihara, a Japanese mathematical scientist at Meiji University, discovered the class of impossible objects. He found a method to turn impossible drawings, like the drawings of M. C. Escher, into actual 3D objects that have the same illusion of impossibility. One of Sugihara’s 3D designs has now been printed by the new FluidFM 3D printing technology of Cytosurge. This technology prints solid metal structures at the sub-millimeter scale.

To fully appreciate the illusion, the impossible objects have been imaged at the very high resolution of an electron microscope. And even inside the electron microscope, two opposite viewing perspectives make the objects undergo an impossible metamorphosis.

FluidFM® Printing Technology

This technology, originally invented at ETH Zurich, uses a tiny pipette with a 300-nm-wide opening to do local electrodeposition of metals, in this case copper. The hollow FluidFM nanopipette is brought into proximity (~1µm) of a conductive surface and a metal ion containing liquid is dispensed. A negative potential applied to the surface reduces the delivered copper ions to solid atoms, which deposit just below the pipette opening. Once the gap between surface and pipette is filled with the solid copper atoms, the pipette moves to the next position, repeating the deposition and like this, a 3D object is created.

Impossible objects made possible with FluidFM.

The impossible objects in three different sizes photographed with a macro objective

The impossible objects in three different sizes photographed with a macro objective. A mirror gives a second perspective revealing the impossibility: The cylinders are rectangular and circular at the same time.

Electron microscope images of the impossible objects

Electron microscope images of the same objects taken from two different perspectives (images colored).

About Kokichi Sugihara

Kokichi Sugihara received the Bachelor, Master, and Doctor of Engineering from the University of Tokyo in 1971, 1973 and 1980, respectively. He worked at the Electrotechnical Laboratory in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan, Nagoya University and the University of Tokyo before moving to the current position at Meiji University in 2009. His research area is mathematical engineering. Working on computer vision, he discovered a method to construct 3D objects from impossible drawings. He then extended his research interest to human vision and optical illusion. He won the first prize of the Best Illusion of the Year Contest three times (2010, 2013 and 2018) and finished second twice (2015 and 2016).

About Cytosurge AG

Cytosurge AG is an ETH spin-off founded in 2009 that successfully develops, manufactures and distributes state-of-the-art nanotechnology solutions based on its patented FluidFM® technology.

Cytosurge created the award-winning FluidFM µ3Dprinter for 3D metal printing at the micrometer scale, the FluidFM ADD-ON, a powerful upgrade solution for AFMs, and the FluidFM BOT, a fully integrated system for cell research. Three leading-edge solutions, for those who want to go beyond current technological boundaries.



Cytosurge AG
Sägereistrasse 25
8152 Glattbrugg

Sabina Packeiser
Phone +41 43 544 87 00
Email [email protected]