A group of engineers from the University of Maryland (UMD) have developed a new technique for printing multi-material structures at the nano level, which could provide researchers with faster, cheaper, and more accurate means of 3D-printing complex patterns.
As detailed in a 21 July paper in the journal Lab on a Chip, the new technique uses a highly simplified moulding process known primarily to scientists working in microfluidics labs around the world.
“By providing researchers with an accessible way to 3D–nanoprint multi-material systems that is not only much quicker, but also more precise than conventional methods, this work opens doors for emerging applications that demand microstructures with multiple materials, and in turn, multiple functions,” said Ryan Sochol from UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.
The new technique – based on a processed called ‘in-situ direct laser writing – allows for multi-material structures to be printed directly inside of micro-channels (removed once the process is completed) loaded with different liquid materials one at a time for material-specific printing.
Apart from a handful of objects nano-printed for the purposes of demonstration, the group is already working with the FDA on leveraging their new technique to 3D-print parts of the human eye comprised of intricate anatomy with different optical properties.
The significance of the strategy invented by Sochol and his colleagues is apparent within the context of (mostly) unsuccessful attempts to utilise multiple materials for 3D-nanoprinting, which is now an issue of the past.
With the new technique, “researchers can easily 3D-nanoprint systems with high numbers of integrated materials at speeds and sizes not possible with conventional methods,” explained Sochol. “This new ability to 3-D nanoprint systems comprising materials with target chemical, biological, electrical, optical, and/or mechanical properties offers a promising pathway to breakthroughs in areas including drug delivery, advanced optics, meta-materials, and microrobotics.”