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3D Printing Metal in Nanoscale

The Engineer writes of a recent report found in the scientific journal Nature Communications.  In this report, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) outline how they have “used a new 3D printing technique to produce complex nanoscale metal structures orders of magnitude smaller than previously” believed possible.

Once the researchers scale these 3D printed metal structures up, they “could be used in a wide variety of applications, from building tiny medical implants and 3D logic circuits on computer chips to engineering ultra-lightweight aircraft components.”

In order to accomplish this nanoscale 3D printing, the researchers used “a high-precision laser to strike the liquid in specific locations of the material with two photons.  Whilst this provides enough energy to harden liquid polymers into solids, it doesn’t provide enough to fuse metal.”

As Caltech Materials Scientist Professor Julia Greer elaborates: “metals don’t respond to light in the same way as the polymer resins we use to manufacture structures at the nanoscale.  There’s a chemical reaction that gets triggered when light interacts with a polymer, enabling it to harden and then form into a particular shape.  In a metal, this process is fundamentally impossible.”

In order to solve this chemical puzzle, Greer’s graduate student Andrey Vyatskikh developed a solution involving “organic ligands – molecules which bond to metal – to create a resin containing mostly polymer, but which carries along with it metal which can be printed like a scaffold.”

Now, the Caltech researchers are focusing on how this nanoscale 3D printing technique “could be called up for industrial applications.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Caltech and The Engineer

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