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Scientists Create '4D Printing' Useful for Solar Energy and Aerospace

Aug 29, 2016 01:36 AM EDT

Objects created through the 3D printing process may be extremely versatile. However, once the printing is done, the objects are limited to one form. The new advancement in 3D printing discovered by scientists hopes to change this. Through 4D printing, objects can change shape once subject to electricity, light, or heat.

The new research study entitled "Multimaterial 4D Printing with Tailorable Shape Memory Polymers" was published in Scientific Reports. This was authored by researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and MIT namely Amir Hosein Sakhaei, Martin L. Dunn, Qi Ge, Howon Lee, Nicholas X. Fang, and Conner K. Dunn.

Their new process called 4D printing would greatly help in a number of scientific fields which include aerospace and solar energy. Changes in the shape of the objects printed through 4D printing are made possible through "shape-memory polymers." These polymers have the ability to "remember their original shape even after the shape has been radically distorted."

In addition to the "memory" polymers, the printing technique called microstereolithography greatly aided the study. This method used projected light to print patterns onto the layers of resin. Also, this method would make printing objects even as small as the width of human hair.

"Because we're using our own printers that offer much smaller pixel size, we're seeing much faster response, on the order of seconds," state Nicholas X. Fang, adding, "If we can push to even smaller dimensions, we may also be able to push their response time, to milliseconds."

The ultimate goal by the team for now is that the "shape-memory" techniques used in 4D printing would help in self-deploying structures used in aerospace applications as well as for hinges used in solar cells. This could also make a huge impact in the medical field. 4D printing combined with 3D printing would make for a smarter and intuitive angle.


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