University Logo Carved Onto Human Hair with Focused Ion Beam


I've been at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, today shooting a piece for Planet Green. While I can't talk about that yet, I can show you these awesome pictures that Dr. Ray LaPierre of the Department of Engineering showed me. (This is the first time they've been online, to my knowledge.)

Dr. LaPierre's group Julia Huang used a focus ion beam microscope (FIB) to shoot a beam of gallium ions at the surface of a human hair, carving atoms off the of the surface of the hair to etch these McMaster University logos. When not tattooing hair, they'll use the FIB microscope to fabricate nanoscale devices.

(Click the images for a larger version.)

Faculty of Engineering page []


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  1. Just a correction, McMaster University is located in Hamilton Ontario, which is roughly 40 minutes south of Toronto.

  2. Why is the logo’s orientation different in each image. Are these two different hairs, is this not the actual image, or do I not understand?

    I think it’s really incredible, that’s why I’m curious.


    I’ve been wondering where all my hair has been going – and I’ve been suspicious for years that my stylist is selling it to wig makers.

    Now I can rightfully randomly inspect and reclaim, where appropriate, my hair from the horrible hags walking around with it on their heads!

    Screw chemistry! It’s better living through bizarre technology all the way, baby!!

  4. Was that you near the Hospital in front of the garden wearing a blue blazer and yellow shirt? With the soundman avec boom-mic and a couple other dudes just kinda chilling? I’d say this was at about 4:20 PM?

    Cause if so, I walked right by you 🙂

  5. Now there’s an infallible way to smuggle data. Engrave it on your hair. That is, if it didn’t take a world class ion beam facility and a crew of who knows how many to produce the image.

  6. I wonder how much data you could engrave in your hair? Would it be more than 320 gigabytes?

  7. I’ve never been more proud to be a bald, chemistry graduate of McMaster University!

  8. Obviously they’ve done something really cool, but the pictures don’t do very much to validate their accomplishments. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was Photoshopped on a zoomed picture of hair.

  9. I like the idea of a salon being able to etch the hair so it acts like some kind of prism – giving the customer a shiny (real shiny) head of refracting rainbow hair – sort of like a party clown with batteries in its skull and an audience on acid.

    Hmmm – I like it it. It has texture.


  10. The two etched images are due to the smaller one being “washed out” because the beam spot size is too large. This was their “practice” bitmap mill. Notice how you can’t make out the wings in the logo? Kinda like drawing a very small picture with an dull pencil – draw the same picture in a bigger scale with the same pencil and it will look much better.

    The horizontal raster striations are due to the beam not being perfectly astigmated + raster artifacts.

    Scientists at Los Alamos (in the late 90’s)already patented a way to archive data using a focused ion beam and reading it with an AFM.

    Prewett and Mair have a similar bitmap driven FIB image on the cover their 1991 book.

    Here are some others (along with some FIB science) by just doing a quick google search using “fib logos” –

  11. Has anyone noticed that this is most likely a photoshopped hoax? No curvature to the text..

  12. The ions will be going straight from where you send them, then it won’t have curvature.

  13. McMaster is near Toronto. It may even be 40 minutes away. But if you go south of Toronto, as the poster suggested, you will end up in a far more interesting place . . .

  14. This looks ‘shopped. I can tell from some of the pixels and seeing quite a few ‘shops in my time.

  15. Guys, it’s not ‘shopped. I stood next to the scanning electron microscope with which these pictures were made, so unless the Prof. is trying to perpetuate a hoax about something that many other commenters have established is a fairly accessible piece of lab equipment it’s the real deal.

    Skepticism is recommended, but sheesh.

  16. It’s understandable that some might say that it *looks* shopped — there is no curvature to the letters and the letters have odd lines in them and look slightly pixelated.

    However, it’s a little rude to flat out say it *is* photoshopped, and therefore by implication Joel and/or the professor are liars, especially once you stop for one tiny moment to think about how these whole process works (straight ion beams etc.)….

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