3D printing is fast becoming or rather, has already become the norm. We even have our own entrepreneurs here in Sri Lanka. The materials used for 3D printed objects tend to keep their original shape without any transformation for quite some time. Well that’s about to change (pun intended)
Scientists at MIT have developed a method for 3D printed objects that would actually allow you to change the polymers in a printed object after it has been printed. So you can literally change the size of the object and its color. You can even get it to completely change its shape as well.
Called “living polymerization”, the result is basically materials whose growth can be paused and then resumed later as required.
According to Jeremiah Johnson, Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT, the idea was that you can print a material and then upon the completion of it, use light to transform the material into something else, or even grow the material further. Johnson, along with Mao Chen and Yuwei Gu who are Postdoc and graduate students respectively, were responsible for conducting the research and also wrote a paper on their experiments.
Their initial experiment was a technique involving a 3D printed object inside a liquid solution. Upon exposing the object to a UV light while it was still inside the solution, the resulting chemical reaction caused the release of free radicals. These radicals proceeded to bind with other monomers inside the solution, thus adding then to the original object. Unfortunately, this proved to be a tad too reactive and thus the original object was damaged.
The newer technique involves polymers with chemical groups that according to the description of the scientists, act like a folded up accordion. Upon exposure to light, the new materials stretch out and proceed to change the material.
As a result, this allowed the scientists to create objects that changed rigidity in UV light and could also expand or shrink when exposed to heat or cold. It was also possible to fuse together two objects by exposing them to UV light.
Thus far, you won’t exactly be able to completely morph say a 3D printed Optimus Prime into Megatron, but it certainly is a start. The technology should also make for some more interesting materials experiments at MIT. If the experiment proves a success and is a viable option to market, the 3D Printing community in Sri Lanka too could use this for some interesting results.