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Swiss lab 'nano chisels' world's tiniest magazine cover

ZURICH (Reuters) - A laboratory in Switzerland has created the smallest magazine cover in the world, using a tiny chisel to create an image so minute that 2,000 of them could fit on a grain of salt.

Scientists carved the 11x14-micrometre image of two pandas that appeared on last month's cover of the National Geographic Kids magazine onto a polymer using technology similar to 3D printing.

"My idea was to do something similar to chiseling a rock, but just to do it on a nano-scale," said Urs Duerig, a scientist at IBM in Switzerland and one of the inventors of the machine.

The device, roughly the size of a family refrigerator, used a tiny chisel with a heatable silicon tip 100,000 times smaller than a sharpened pencil point to cut out the image.

The technology could be used to make transistors, as well as nano-sized security tags to prevent the forgery of money, passports and artwork, scientists involved said.

"The application range is quite broad," said Felix Holzner, chief executive of SwissLitho, a startup to which the IBM technology has been licensed. "It's like a 3D printer on a microscopic scale - you can make any structure you want but a million times smaller with this machine."

At the moment, the high-tech machines, which cost around 500,000 euros ($691,500), are intended as research tools rather than for use in the production industry, Holzner said.

National Geographic Kids, which commissioned the project, will unveil its Guinness world record title for the smallest magazine cover in Washington, D.C. on Friday. ($1 = 0.7231 Euros)

(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Michael Roddy and Catherine Evans)

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