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3D Printing Multiple Materials With Light

Science Daily reports on a recent report published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.  This report was made by a team of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with funding by the Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.  Apparently, the team has developed an innovative 3D printing process.

The scientists created “a novel 3D printer, which uses patterns of visible and ultraviolet light to dictate which of two monomers are polymerized to form a solid material.  Different patterns of light provide the spatial control necessary to yield multi-material parts.”  Essentially, in plain English, this means the team has discovered a way to 3D print multi-material objects using light.

Now, of course, this is not the first time light has been used to 3D print objects – just look at Carbon3D’s stereolithography process – but it is the first time light has been used to 3D print multi-material objects.

As UW-Madison Professor of Chemistry A.J. Boydston, who led the team along with graduate student Johanna Schwartz, explains: “as amazing as 3D printing is, in many cases it only offers one color with which to paint.  The field needs a full color palette.  This is a shift in how we think about 3D printing with multiple types of materials in one object.  This is more of a bottom-up chemist’s approach, from molecules to networks.”

“Most multi-material 3D printing methods use separate reservoirs of materials to get different materials in the right positions.  But Boydston realized a one-vat, multiple-component approach – similar to a chemist’s one-pot approach when synthesizing molecules – would be more practical than multiple reservoirs with different materials. This approach is based on the ability of different wavelengths of light to control which starting materials polymerize into different sections of the solid product. Those starting materials start as simple chemicals, known as monomers, which polymerize together into a longer string of chemicals, like how plastic is made.”

“The researchers simultaneously direct light from two projectors toward a vat of liquid starting materials, where layers are built one-by-one on a platform. After one layer is built, the build platform moves up, and light helps build the next layer.”

The team’s innovative “approach to multi-material 3D printing could enable designers, artists, engineers, and scientists to create significantly more complex systems with 3D printing.  Applications could include the creation of personalized medical devices, such as prostheses, or the development of simulated organs and tissues.  Medical students could use these synthetic organs for training instead of, or before working with, live patients.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Science Daily

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