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Where 3D Printing Should Be Headed March 13, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Toys.

Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) have now made a major breakthrough in speeding up three dimensional printing at the nanoscale resolution. The high-precision-3D-printer at TU Vienna is orders of magnitude faster and opens up completely new areas of application, like medicine.

This is done by combining two improvements: one, in the extremely precise way in which the laser’s mirrors are accelerated and decelerated (details boring, will not trouble you with this) and two, the chemistry of the resin.  The resin has some initiator molecules which induce polymerization when hit by TWO photons from the laser, which only happens in the very center of the beam.  Subtle and tricky, since this can be focused very precisely in all three dimensions.  The focal point of the laser beam is guided through the resin by the aforementioned movable mirrors and leaves behind a polymerized line of solid polymer just a few hundred nanometers wide, allowing creation of intricately structured sculptures as tiny as a grain of sand.

This video shows the 3d-printing process in real time: one hundred layers, consisting of approximately 200 single lines each, are produced in four minutes.

Beat that, RepRap.

3D-printer with nano-precision

A 75-nanometer model of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna.

In contrast to conventional 3D-printing techniques, solid material can be created anywhere within the liquid resin rather than on top of the previously created layer only. Therefore, the working surface does not have to be specially prepared before the next layer can be produced which saves a lot of time. A team of chemists led by Professor Robert Liska (TU Vienna) developed the suitable initiators for this special resin.

3D-printer with nano-precision

The London Tower Bridge, also pretty small.

Researchers all over the world are working on 3D printers today. Because of the dramatically increased speed, much larger objects can now be created in a given period of time. This makes two-photon-lithography an interesting technique for industry. At the TU Vienna, scientists are now developing bio-compatible resins for medical applications. They can be used to create scaffolds to which living cells can attach themselves facilitating the systematic creation of biological tissues. The 3d printer could also be used to create tailor-made construction parts for biomedical technology or nanotechnology.

Jan Torgersen (l) and Peter Gruber (r) im 3D-Drucker-Labor

Jan Torgersen (l) and Peter Gruber (r) and the fastest 3D nanoprinter ever!

I am very interested in seeing how long it will be before custom electronics and analytical biochips are made using these techniques, like all those science fiction authors said would happen in nanobot medicine.  Just sayin’.


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