Monster machine 'grows gadgets' atom by atom

This here machine is the MBE, named after the process it uses to assemble everything from LEDs to laser components. With it, engineers in the U.K. are trying to figure out how we can build everyday gadgets and high-end electronics more efficiently, and better to boot.

MBE stands for molecular beam epitaxy, which is basically a big scary science term for a process by which tiny crystalline structures are layered together to form objects — just like 3D printing, but on a way smaller scale.

With this particular MBE, Sharp researchers at the company's Oxford Labs in England use a cocktail of sensors and magnetic arrays to piece together electronics using atom-sized Lego blocks, working in an artificial environment that's not unlike the vacuum of space.

As crazy as it sounds, this MBE is actually on the smaller side, and these machines have been around since the late 1960s. Why don't we have replicators yet?

Check out a video of Sharp's engineers detailing the machine below, and see more views of the MBE in the gallery.

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Images and video courtesy of Humans Invent.

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