A new study shows how innovation in 3D printing continues unabated. A new technique makes it possible to “feed” inanimate objects with living matter, making them stronger and more flexible. A team of researchers from USC, Caltech and MIT have found a way to infuse 3D printing ink with living material. This makes products stronger, more flexible and able to heal themselves.
The paper, whose lead author is Qiming Wang of USC, was published in the journal PNAS on January 19.
3D printing innovation using spinach chloroplasts
Researchers’ inspiration came in part from Popeye the Sailor, “who can strengthen his muscles by eating spinach,” says Wang. “Now we’re using scientific innovation to realize our child’s imagination,” he said.
The team used a centrifuge to extract chloroplasts from spinach. They then mixed the spinach chloroplasts with a newly invented polymer ink for 3D printing. Eventually, they used this ink to 3D print structures.
By applying light to the 3D printed objects, they created a way to create plant-based glucose. This glucose reacts with the polymer to make the material stronger.
This technique is similar to how trees use the power of photosynthesis to produce glucose, which turns into cellulose. The cellulose then strengthens the cell structure of the plant.
Just add light and press print
If you apply light for two to four hours, the material can reinforce itself. At the end of the process, it is six times stronger than before the process. And this enhancing effect caused by the living chloroplasts can also be temporarily canceled by freezing the material. The effect resumes when the temperature returns to a typical room temperature.
“Such transient ‘suspension behavior’ has never been demonstrated in existing engineered materials,” said Wang.
This process is also similar to the way trees grow stronger when they are put under pressure. If you hang a weight from a branch, that branch becomes much stronger than the neighboring branches. This process is called “mechanotransduction,” and the same phenomenon applies here.
The next 3D printing innovation: a customizable sneaker sole
The team’s next step is the Using this technique to design a custom 3D printed sneaker sole that conforms to a person’s foot with a custom level of stiffness.
According to the researchers, infusing products with “living Material” in this way also excellent performance self-repairing quality. It does this via the glucose produced by photosynthesis, which creates the molecular process known as “crosslinking.” This is similar to sutures or stitches used by surgeons. This self-healing ability could one day work for propellers, drones, and more.
“This work opens the door to the design of hybrid synthetic-living materials,” the authors write, “for applications such as intelligent composites, lightweight structures and soft robotics.”
Your study is just one example of how scientists are using the natural properties of biological matter in novel ways. European researchers are using a natural material made from seashells to heal cracks in buildings. The inherent self-healing properties of this technique make it unlike anything that has been possible with traditional materials.
The 3D printing revolution continues
As widely prophesied, the possibilities of 3D printing continue to grow and are now taking ever more unexpected forms. As the resolution of 3D printers improves and the range of materials expands, the process also becomes more magical. For example, an Anycubic 3D printer can now bring the rapid 3D manufacturing revolution to your home for just a few hundred dollars, an order of magnitude cheaper than just a few years ago.
Price matters, as the Die The future of 3D printing is likely to be shaped by those who can afford it. A small apartment in a small town isn’t the most likely setting to start a revolution, but makerspaces are popping up in small towns around the world. And the sharing economy business model encourages doers to come out of their silos and work together. From university labs to suburban basements, developments like the one described here are probably just a glimpse of what’s to come.
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Study: Photosynthesis-assisted remodeling of three-dimensional printed structuresAuthors: Kunhao Yu, Zhangzhengrong Feng, Haixu Du, An Xin, Kyung Hoon Lee, Ketian Li, Yipin Su, Qiming Wang, Nicholas X. Fang and Chiara DaraioPublished in: PNASPublished date: 19 January 2021DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2016524118Photo: by Chokniti Khongchum from Pexels