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3D Printing Progress May 10, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff.
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There’s going to be a lot of that, now that critical mass of commercial systems are available. new materials are being used in additive manufacturing and new devices have considerably expanded the capabilities of systems in terms of speed, build volume and finish. It’s an interesting moment in engineering history, and nobody knows where it will lead.

Printing with [anything besides plastics] is fraught with difficulty, so interesting methods have been tried for substances like metals, clay, frosting(!) with varying success. Two methods have lately shown promise in metal and glass(amazingly enough).

First, metals. The most common method of depositing metals has been to embed the metal in something a bit more fluid, like in an ink suspension. This has the usual effect of having poor mechanical adhesion, because after the fluid dries the metal may adhere to itself poorly (likely) and there may be fluid contamination trapped in the metal layers (very likely).  Researchers got around this with an entirely new method, using a sacrificial electrode to generate ions of the metal and spraying those ions electrostatically. You can get insanely small resolution using this technique:

…and you can print with more than one metal by building both into the tip and just switching voltage from one electrode to the other:

Elegant as hell, isn’t it?

Then, glass: a team in France using chalcogenide glass (which softens at a relatively low temperature compared to other glass) produced chalcogenide glass filaments with dimensions similar to the commercial plastic filaments normally used with the 3-D printer. The research team then increased the maximum extruding temperature of a commercial 3-D printer from around 260 °C to 330 °C.  The result is pretty interesting:

An interesting proof-of-concept piece, this points to novel uses for chalcogenide glass commonly used to make optical components that operate at mid-infrared wavelengths. It’s not likely to be used elsewhere, as it’s a “soft” glass, but the feat is going to be useful in optics fabrication. Also, there are some low-temperature metal alloys that could probably benefit from this technique.


Homework: Alain Reiser et al. Multi-metal electrohydrodynamic redox 3D printing at the submicron scale, Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09827-1

E. Baudet et al, 3D-printing of arsenic sulfide chalcogenide glasses, Optical Materials Express (2019). DOI: 10.1364/OME.9.002307

3D-Printed Flexible Piezoelectric Element January 24, 2019

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Mechanical engineers develop process to 3D print piezoelectric materials

New methods to 3D print piezoelectric materials that can be custom-designed to convert movement, impact and stress from any directions to electrical energy have been published in Nature Materials.  The materials can also be activated — providing the next generation of intelligent infrastructures and smart materials for tactile sensing, impact and vibration monitoring, energy harvesting, and other applications. Unlike conventional piezoelectrics, where electric charge movements are prescribed by the intrinsic crystals, the new method allows users to prescribe and program voltage responses to be magnified, reversed or suppressed in any direction.

A factor in current piezoelectric fabrication is the natural crystal used. At the atomic level, the orientation of atoms are fixed. The researchers produced a substitute that mimics the crystal but allows the lattice orientation to be altered by design.

“We have synthesized a class of highly sensitive piezoelectric inks that can be sculpted into complex three-dimensional features with ultraviolet light. The inks contain highly concentrated piezoelectric nanocrystals bonded with UV-sensitive gels, which form a solution — a milky mixture like melted crystal — that we print with a high-resolution digital light 3D printer”.

The material has sensitivities 5-fold higher than flexible piezoelectric polymers. The stiffness and shape of the material can be tuned and produced as a thin sheet resembling a strip of gauze, or as a stiff block. “We have a team making them into wearable devices, like rings, insoles, and fitting them into a boxing glove where we will be able to record impact forces and monitor the health of the user,” said the chief investigator Zheng.

The team has printed and demonstrated smart materials wrapped around curved surfaces, worn on hands and fingers to convert motion, and harvest the mechanical energy, but the applications go well beyond wearables and consumer electronics.

“Traditionally, if you wanted to monitor the internal strength of a structure, you would need to have a lot of individual sensors placed all over the structure, each with a number of leads and connectors,” said Huachen Cui, a doctoral student of Zheng’s and the first author of the Nature Materials paper. “Here, the structure itself is the sensor — it can monitor itself.”

Homework: Huachen Cui, Ryan Hensleigh, Desheng Yao, Deepam Maurya, Prashant Kumar, Min Gyu Kang, Shashank Priya, Xiaoyu Zheng. Three-dimensional printing of piezoelectric materials with designed anisotropy and directional responseNature Materials, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41563-018-0268-1

3D Models Through Multiple Primitives January 7, 2019

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Sometime the 3D scanner can’t model complex interiors. Geeks to the rescue:
The authors of a nifty paper describe how their software creates solid models based on a kind of successive approximation using a library of primitive shapes.  They claim success in over one hundred complex models (see video, above).

Manufactured Human Organs November 20, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Brain, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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Scientists at Tel Aviv University have created human organs (little ones but, hey) from a bit of biopsied tissues.  They separated the cells from the rest, induced pluripotency and built up organs in differentiated cell layers on a gel scaffolding.  They were able to grow cardiac, spinal and cortical cells from the biopsy sample.

This is critical to success: the cells are the patient’s own cells, with little chance of immune system rejection.  These guys (Tal Dvir, Reuven Edri, NAdav Noor, Idan Gal, Dan Peer and Irit Gat Viks) are currently engaged in regenerating an injured spinal cord and an infarcted heart with spinal cord and cardiac implants. They have also begun to investigate the potential of human dopaminergic implants to treat Parkinson’s disease in animal models.

They have big plans for this technology: “We believe that the technology of engineering fully personalized tissue implants of any type will allow us to regenerate any organ with a minimal risk of immune response,” Prof. Dvir concludes.

Homework: Reuven Edri et al, Personalized Hydrogels for Engineering Diverse Fully Autologous Tissue Implants, Advanced Materials (2018). DOI: 10.1002/adma.201803895

I Was a Callow Youth of Forty When June 7, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Japan, Mutants, Octopus, Toys, Video.
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I first saw Ghost in the Shell, an anime of now classic status, which features cyborgs questioning their own humanity and a possible AI they may discover, and perhaps combat.  There is competent animation, what I imagine is good writing (the subtitles I saw on this fan-subbed version were perhaps a reflection of the translator, however) and an interesting soundtrack.

It also spawned a legion of anime geeks and fanboys, one of whom has made a copy of the mech of choice from said anime, the Tachikoma.  It is very, um, lifelike:

It’s a beautiful build. I would be so proud if this were my child.

Why 3D Printing Exists November 6, 2015

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The Singularity Started With the Wheel March 16, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Mutants, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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As difficult as it may be to comprehend, the wheel is the basic unit of technology. It made the repetitive business of carrying stuff easier. When tasks can be easily repeated (preferably automated), they can also be tweaked to do them better, maybe each time.

With computer controls, these tweaking steps can be automated, and the results don’t even have to be seen by a human.  These results can be used to produce new methods to experiment, ad infinitum. This is precisely why we should not allow AIs any autonomy whatever in creating new AIs.

But I digress.

The tools of automation are now cheaply available, giving everyone who wants it access to finely-controlled stepper motors which can be used in the trial and error methods heretofore mentioned.  Cheap microcontroller systems to run them combined with said stepper motors give us robotic assemblers, 3D printers and molecular assemblers.

Yeah, you heard me.

Usually, small-molecule synthesis usually relies on procedures that are highly customized for each target. Martin Burke, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) early career scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, used a single, fully-automated process to synthesize fourteen distinct classes of small molecules from a common set of building blocks.

A broadly applicable automated process could greatly increase the accessibility of [this class of compounds] to enable investigations of their practical potential. More broadly, these findings illuminate an actionable roadmap to a more general and automated approach for small-molecule synthesis (he used Csp3-rich polycyclic natural product frameworks and developed a catch-and-release chromatographic purification method).

As a former chemist, I must say this is plenty difficult and detailed…but it only has to be done once and this genie is not going back into the bottle.  This will step up the pace of novel moiety experimentation, especially now that we have computational chemistry on a sound footing.  Picture this: computer cranks out theoretical molecule families for research.  Magic chemistry machine makes them.  Another automated machine tests them.  Potential drug candidates can be screened without human intervention, for conditions that currently have no treatment, but do have a good theoretical model.

Honestly, I have been thinking of this for thirty-five years, when one of my classmates described the room-temperature chemistry that was just being used for automated peptide synthesis, a hot subject in my college years1.

Now, with  automated synthesis producing testable quantities of continuously-varying drugs, we can start continuously comparing them with standard drugs for, say, antibiotic activity in a Petri-like environment (I hope it is no surprise that this technology exists already, although it is not in concert with the aforementioned molecular assembler), quickly finding optimal candidates in what could be an entirely automated process.  Promising candidates’ structures can be continuously varied by the molecular assembler under the watchful eye of an expert system (it is fun to imagine the expert system eventually deciding that chlorine bleach is the optimal antibiotic; obviously safety trials against mammalian cell lines need to run in parallel).

Aha, I hear you cry, what about diagnosis?  I’m pretty sure I covered this already2, when I  talked about brute-force cracking the human medical condition through big data: thousands of tests administered cheaply, regularly through millions of peoples’ lifetimes.  This data would be trawled for correlations between medical conditions and test results, telling us things clinicians would miss just because human heads can’t hold that kind of data well enough to draw statistical conclusions, or even reasonable inferences…but computers can.  Frustratingly, the legal problems here are beyond human comprehension as well; the intellectual property costs to create this many tests would be astronomical, although once acquired it could be quite cheap to administer (this is already possible, just not done for greed’s sake).  This will require a revolution in thinking which is not, alas, forthcoming soon3.

Other science can be brute-forced in a similar fashion by automation in other chemical reactions; I picked drug discovery for illustration since that’s where the most money can be found currently.

These are delightful speculations and become even more possible as long as things continue the way they are going, at least in terms of physical possibility.  Cheaper, faster processors make it possible to control all manner of laboratory  and industrial devices, not just your toaster, son.

It all makes me wish I were a better writer, because these ideas deserve better advocacy than I can bring to bear.



Synthesis of many different types of organic small molecules using one automated process Junqi Li, Steven G. Ballmer, Eric P. Gillis, Seiko Fujii, Michael J. Schmidt, Andrea M. E. Palazzolo, Jonathan W. Lehmann, Greg F. Morehouse, Martin D. Burke


1 We’re getting there, fellas.  Keep up the good work.

2 Please try to keep up.

3 If ever.

Because it’s Beautiful March 16, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Video.
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This Lego-Modded Glue Gun is A Handheld 3D Printer

This hand-held 3D printer is made of LEGO and a hot glue gun, just the way God intended it to make bespoke hats and whatever else you can’t be bothered to scan, convert to pointcloud, convert that to STL, put in your (horrendously expensive) 3D printer and wait.  Like this tasty video (with cheery music) shows:

Cheap, Non-toxic Printed Circuits November 23, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (NTU) have successfully printed complex electronic circuits using a t-shirt printer. They were printed using in layers on flexible stuff like paper or plastic and included resistors, transistors and capacitors. All were printed using non-toxic organic materials like silver nanoparticles, carbon and plastics.

The types of complex circuits the team has successfully printed include a 4-bit DAC, and an RFID. Not all that complex, sure, but a great proof-of-concept.

Associate Professor Joseph Chang is the leader of the NTU Singapore research group behind this. I couldn’t find the relevant paper for homework, but I did find this photo.circuit on a sheet

small circuit

3D Printing Tiny Complex, Multi-material Devices November 23, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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3D printers are, at this stage of their march through the Singularity, largely confined to printing with only on material, probably due to cost constraints.  But, what if all the materials needed to produce some specialized bit of kit were available in one printer?  Just how complex a device could be manufactured?  Princeton scientists have just manufactured a 2 x 2 x 2 matrix of quantum-dot LEDs as a demonstration of their 3D printer, which can manage five different print materials, including (1) emissive semiconducting inorganic nanoparticles, (2) an elastomeric matrix, (3) organic polymers as charge transport layers, (4) solid and liquid metal leads, and (5) a UV-adhesive transparent substrate layer.

That’s right; five.  And complex; here’s the matrix and a picture of a single LED on a suggestively curved substrate.  I think we are meant to be reminded of a contact lens.

Homework: It’s published in NanoLetters, right here.

The Reason 3D Printing Was Invented November 4, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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Wrist Rocket October 1, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Mutants, Photography, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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That’s right, friends, a quadcopter camera that you wear on your wrist.  THIS IS WHAT I WANT FOR NEWTONMASS, PEOPLE!  The prototype (not the rendering above) looks like it would actually work pretty well:

The promo video from their website hints at uses, which I have been advocating for years, like a follow me camera for safety and bragging:

Nixie is powered by Intel’s Edison kit, which is both small enough and affordable enough to fit inside such a small device. And devices like this will only get smaller.

As far as I can tell, Star Trek did not think of this in the 1960s.  Of course the Next Generation did, but we already had cell phones by then so no points for out-of-the-box thinking for them.

Printing Circuits With Conductive Ink May 20, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Printing circuits with conductive ink

These guys were printing with (various) conductive inks, making little circuits right in front of the inquisitive crowds of Maker Faire 2014.  Sadly, I have lost their card. Sad smile

I want this.

EXCITING UPDATE: I found their card, and thence this URL: http://www.botfactory.co/blog/17-botfactory-presents-squink

Portable PrintrBot May 19, 2014

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In case you break some small, cheap, worthless item during your extended camping trip.

3D Printed Calipers–Printed Fully Assembled! March 23, 2014

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angrymonk55 is printing himself a 3D toolbox.  This is his caliper set, which he printed fully assembled.  A very nice little hack.  His videos show a pretty well-rounded guy:

3D-Printed Ornithopter in Japan August 21, 2013

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CAD-assisted Drug Design Using DNA Strands January 1, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science.
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Scientists have developed a CAD drug development system that uses  synthetic DNA as a programmable molecular substrate. These strands of synthetic DNA can be constructed to have any sequence of bases. And, because complementary sequences of DNA are mutually attractive, synthetic strands can be created with sequences that cause them to align with one another and bind to form nanostructures of virtually any shape. If the DNA strands are bound to other molecular species (say, tumor-killing molecules) before self-assembly is induced, the tumor killers can be pulled into desired locations by the DNA strands during self-assembly.

In other words, LEGO for molecules.*

This is paid for partly by NSF funding, but curiously enough a private company seems to have a lock on it.  Parabon Nanolabs™ has simplified this concept down to CAD-based software for the budding mad scientist.  The Parabon inSēquio™ Sequence Design Studio graphically enters designs and then determines the DNA sequences that will self-assemble into that design.

The graphic editor lays out a nanostructure visually. Users can rotate and bend strands, define bindings between base pairs, and copy and paste sequences and structures between design documents. The cloud-based number-crunching uses a bunch of known wet-chemistry values for the binding energies and calculates the complex molecular interactions required to make the molecule desired. 

Neat, huh? This would be entirely impossible for a human to do, ever; it’s billions of calculations that need to be made and complex rules to be followed.**

Still, how they will mock up the synthesized molecules themselves should be an interesting technical feat;  I would really like to see the execution of this, rather than a neat CAD program for molecules.***

Announcement here. Parabon Nanolabs here.


* Some assembly required.

** Another reason not to be a chemist.

*** It’s not impossible; use synthesizers to make the short pieces, PCR copy them, keep them salty enough that they can’t self-assemble before all the other pieces are made, mix together and pray.  The devil is in these details.  Maybe we can get Rob Park to do it.

Portable 3D Printing July 26, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Geek Stuff, Toys.
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Ilan Moyer, whose designs for rapid prototyping machines have always amused and interested me at Maker Fair, has designed and built a (yes, prototype) portable 3D printer, CNC machine and laser cutter in a standard photographer’s aluminum case:

Beautiful, yes? “PopFab has traveled the world as a carry-on item of luggage to Saudi Arabia and Germany, and within the USA [from Boston] to Aspen in Colorado. We hope that this is only the beginning.”

Where 3D Printing Should Be Headed March 13, 2012

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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’.

Graphene Ink Printing of Electronic Components November 25, 2011

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Using ink-jet printer nozzles for any number of fine fabrication techniques is already underway and under research, but Professor of Nanotechnology Andrea Ferrari and colleagues from the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge have developed a method of creating a graphene ink that can be used with a modified ink-jet printer.  This is revolutionary for two reasons:  first, electronic components such as thin film transistors (TFTs) can already be created using ink-jet printing with ferroelectric polymer inks, but the performance of such components is poor and they are too slow for many applications.  Graphene-enhanced versions of these transistors are much, much faster and have higher electron motilities.  Second, the resulting components can be transparently printed on a number of flexible substrates.  Essentially, the moving, flexible folding newspaper from Harry Potter films (and any number of science fiction stories) can be fabricated with a system of these graphene-ink-printed components.

Using flakes of pure graphite, the team peeled off layers of graphene using liquid-phase exfoliation (sonication of the graphite in the presence of a solvent). The graphene bits were ultra-centrifuged and filtered to remove any particles large enough to block the ink-jet printer heads (about a micron). These processed graphene bits were then used as the basis for the ink printed, using a more-or-less standard ink-jet printer, onto silicon and glass. They heated the substrates to drive off the ink carrier, leaving the graphene flakes behind. The results are at least comparable to current ferroelectric polymer inks:

“They achieved mobilities of up to around 95cm2V−1s−1, about 80% transmittance and 30kohm sheet resistance. Non-graphene polymer inks typically achieve mobilities of less than 0.5cm2V−1s−1, while adding carbon nanotubes can increase this to around 50cm2V−1s−1.”

The results should only improve as the method is refined and enhanced. I imagine that any number of display manufacturers would be interested in this method, if only to print touchscreens directly on their current displays cheaply.

I predict a burgeoning movement among the various hobbyists who specialize in printer hacks a la RepRap.  People like Jeri Ellsworth have been working on home-made electronics (specifically in her case transistors) and will be very, very interested in what sounds like an easily-reproduced inkjet solution for printing small electronic components.

Ink-Jet Printed Graphene Electronics, F. Torrisi, T. Hasan, W. Wu, Z. Sun, A. Lombardo, T. Kulmala, G. W. Hshieh, S. J. Jung, F. Bonaccorso, P. J. Paul, D. P. Chu, A. C. Ferrari  arXiv:1111.4970v1