Engineers designed a new nanoscale 3D printing material that can be printed at a speed of 100 mm/s

It's all thanks to nanoclusters.
Nergis Firtina
3D printer machine stock image.
3D printer machine stock image.


A new nanoscale 3D printing material developed by Stanford University engineers may provide superior structural protection for satellites, drones, and microelectronics

An improved lightweight, a protective lattice that can absorb twice as much energy as previous materials of a similar density has been developed by engineers for nanoscale 3D printing.

According to the study led by Stanford University, a nanoscale 3D printing material, which creates structures that are a fraction of the width of a human hair, will enable to print of materials that are available for use, especially when printing at very small scales.

“There’s a lot of interest right now in designing different types of 3D structures for mechanical performance,” says Wendy Gu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a corresponding author on the paper.

“What we’ve done on top of that is develop a material that is really good at resisting forces, so it’s not just the 3D structure, but also the material that provides very good protection.”

Engineers designed a new nanoscale 3D printing material that can be printed at a speed of 100 mm/s
Tiny but strong Stanford logo made using nanoscale 3D printing.

Printing 100 millimeters per second

Gu and her coworkers added metal nanoclusters (tiny groupings of atoms) to their printing medium to create a superior 3D printing material. Two-photon lithography, which the researchers are using to print, hardens the printing material through a chemical reaction started by laser light. They discovered that their nanoclusters were particularly effective in kicking off this reaction, which produced a substance that was a mixture of the metal and the polymer printing medium.

“The nanoclusters have very good properties for taking in the laser light and then converting that to a chemical reaction,” Gu explains.

“And they’re able to do this with several classes of polymers, so they’re even more versatile than I expected.”

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The scientists were able to mix proteins, acrylates, and epoxies—a few popular kinds of polymers used in 3D printing—with metal nanoclusters. The printing process was accelerated by the nanoclusters as well.

For instance, Gu and her coworkers were able to print at a speed of 100 millimeters per second using the nanoclusters and proteins, which is roughly 100 times faster than what had previously been possible with nanoscale protein printing.

“The lattice structure certainly matters, but what we’re showing here is that if the material it’s made out of is optimized, that’s more important for performance,” Gu says. “You don’t have to worry about exactly what the 3D structure is if you have the right materials to print with.”

Mimicking the real world with 3D printing

Gu and her coworkers are, in some ways imitating what nature has already mastered. For instance, the mix of a hard exterior, nanoscale porosity, and trace amounts of soft substance gives bone its durability.

“Since the nanoclusters are able to polymerize these different classes of chemicals, we may be able to use them to print multiple materials in one structure,” Gu says. “That’s one thing we’d like to aim for.”

The study was published in Science on October 17.


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