Future Is Here: MIT Scientists Develop 3D Printed Shape Shifting Objects

First Posted: Aug 29, 2016 08:57 AM EDT

A combined research team from MIT and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) created a new kind of structure that can "remember" its original shape, and return to it even after being deformed.

The Scientists use shape-memory polymers as their base material, which can maintain both a high-temperature and low-temperature state. The printing process allows said high-temperature state to be printed onto a liquid resin using light from a projector, which MIT says is basically what happens when dentists 3D print replicas of teeth or cavity fills.


3D printing has done a lot for medical science,  now it could help us revolutionize medication delivery. Though the team hasn't yet developed temperature sensitive pills, the technology is halfway there. By combining a new 3D-printing process called "microstereolithography" with a special polymer mix that hardens or softens based on variant thermal conditions, researchers have been able to create tiny structures that can "remember" specific shapes, reports

According to MIT News, microstereolithography gives the team the ability to print objects the width of a human hair, ten times smaller than what other teams have been able to accomplish with shape-memory printing. "Because we're using our own printers that offer much smaller pixel size, we're seeing much faster response, on the order of seconds," Nicholas X. Fang, one of the MIT researchers, told MIT news. "If we can push to even smaller dimensions, we may also be able to push their response time, to milliseconds."

The group has used the technology to create a tiny, intricately detailed replica of the Eiffel tower as well as a tool capable of grabbing and lifting small objects. The other applications may include design of biomedical devices, shape-changing solar cells and aerospace components.

"The reality is that, if you're able to make it to much smaller dimensions, these materials can actually respond very quickly, within seconds," Dr. Fang told MIT News. "For example, a flower can release pollen in milliseconds. It can only do that because its actuation mechanisms are at the micron scale."

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