Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Inkjet printer


Sustainable and personally tailored materials production is an emerging challenge to society. Living organisms can produce and pattern an extraordinarily wide range of different molecules in a sustainable way. These natural systems offer an abundant source of inspiration for the development of new environmentally-friendly materials production techniques. In this paper, we describe the first steps towards the 3-dimensional printing of bacterial cultures for materials production and patterning. This methodology combines the capability of bacteria to form new materials with the reproducibility and tailored approach of 3D printing systems. For this purpose, a commercial 3D printer was modified for bacterial systems, and new alginate-based bio-ink chemistry was developed. Printing temperature, printhead speed, and bio-ink extrusion rate were all adapted and customized to maximize bacterial health and spatial resolution of printed structures. Our combination of 3D printing technology with biological systems enables a sustainable approach for the production of numerous new materials.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Biology, Organism, Printing, Inkjet printer


We report a novel method for fabrication of three-dimensional (3D) biocompatible micro-fluidic flow chambers in polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) by 3D-printing water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) filaments as master scaffolds. The scaffolds are first embedded in the PDMS and later residue-free dissolved in water leaving an inscription of the scaffolds in the hardened PDMS. We demonstrate the strength of our method using a regular, cheap 3D printer, and evaluate the inscription process and the channels micro-fluidic properties using image analysis and digital holographic microscopy. Furthermore, we provide a protocol that allows for direct printing on coverslips and we show that flow chambers with a channel cross section down to 40 μm × 300 μm can be realized within 60 min. These flow channels are perfectly transparent, biocompatible and can be used for microscopic applications without further treatment. Our proposed protocols facilitate an easy, fast and adaptable production of micro-fluidic channel designs that are cost-effective, do not require specialized training and can be used for a variety of cell and bacterial assays. To help readers reproduce our micro-fluidic devices, we provide: full preparation protocols, 3D-printing CAD files for channel scaffolds and our custom-made molding device, 3D printer build-plate leveling instructions, and G-code.

Concepts: Microscope, Computer graphics, Printing, Inkjet printer, Channel, Polyvinyl alcohol, Polyvinyl acetate, 3D printing


The creation of reversibly-actuating components that alter their shapes in a controllable manner in response to environmental stimuli is a grand challenge in active materials, structures, and robotics. Here we demonstrate a new reversible shape-changing component design concept enabled by 3D printing two stimuli responsive polymers-shape memory polymers and hydrogels-in prescribed 3D architectures. This approach uses the swelling of a hydrogel as the driving force for the shape change, and the temperature-dependent modulus of a shape memory polymer to regulate the time of such shape change. Controlling the temperature and aqueous environment allows switching between two stable configurations - the structures are relatively stiff and can carry load in each - without any mechanical loading and unloading. Specific shape changing scenarios, e.g., based on bending, or twisting in prescribed directions, are enabled via the controlled interplay between the active materials and the 3D printed architectures. The physical phenomena are complex and nonintuitive, and so to help understand the interplay of geometric, material, and environmental stimuli parameters we develop 3D nonlinear finite element models. Finally, we create several 2D and 3D shape changing components that demonstrate the role of key parameters and illustrate the broad application potential of the proposed approach.

Concepts: Engineering, Control, Inkjet printer, Mystique, 3D printing, Polymers, Shapeshifting, Werewolf


Despite recent advances to control the spatial composition and dynamic functionalities of bacteria embedded in materials, bacterial localization into complex three-dimensional (3D) geometries remains a major challenge. We demonstrate a 3D printing approach to create bacteria-derived functional materials by combining the natural diverse metabolism of bacteria with the shape design freedom of additive manufacturing. To achieve this, we embedded bacteria in a biocompatible and functionalized 3D printing ink and printed two types of “living materials” capable of degrading pollutants and of producing medically relevant bacterial cellulose. With this versatile bacteria-printing platform, complex materials displaying spatially specific compositions, geometry, and properties not accessed by standard technologies can be assembled from bottom up for new biotechnological and biomedical applications.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Cellulose, Microorganism, Printing, Inkjet printer, Ink, Printing press


The ability to pattern planar and freestanding 3D metallic architectures at the microscale would enable myriad applications, including flexible electronics, displays, sensors, and electrically small antennas. A 3D printing method is introduced that combines direct ink writing with a focused laser that locally anneals printed metallic features “on-the-fly.” To optimize the nozzle-to-laser separation distance, the heat transfer along the printed silver wire is modeled as a function of printing speed, laser intensity, and pulse duration. Laser-assisted direct ink writing is used to pattern highly conductive, ductile metallic interconnects, springs, and freestanding spiral architectures on flexible and rigid substrates.

Concepts: Electricity, Heat, Aluminium, Metal, Copper, Silver, Printing, Inkjet printer


Conventional 3D bioprinting allows fabrication of 3D scaffolds for biomedical applications. In this contribution we present a cryogenic 3D printing method able to produce stable 3D structures by utilising the liquid to solid phase change of a composite hydrogel (CH) ink. This is achieved by rapidly cooling the ink solution below its freezing point using solid carbon dioxide (CO2) in an isopropanol bath. The setup was able to successfully create 3D complex geometrical structures, with an average compressive stiffness of O(1) kPa (0.49 ± 0.04 kPa stress at 30% compressive strain) and therefore mimics the mechanical properties of the softest tissues found in the human body (e.g. brain and lung). The method was further validated by showing that the 3D printed material was well matched to the cast-moulded equivalent in terms of mechanical properties and microstructure. A preliminary biological evaluation on the 3D printed material, coated with collagen type I, poly-L-lysine and gelatine, was performed by seeding human dermal fibroblasts. Cells showed good attachment and viability on the collagen-coated 3D printed CH. This greatly widens the range of applications for the cryogenically 3D printed CH structures, from soft tissue phantoms for surgical training and simulations to mechanobiology and tissue engineering.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Collagen, Extracellular matrix, Carbon, Phase transition, Inkjet printer, Cryobiology


Fully printed wearable electronics based on two-dimensional (2D) material heterojunction structures also known as heterostructures, such as field-effect transistors, require robust and reproducible printed multi-layer stacks consisting of active channel, dielectric and conductive contact layers. Solution processing of graphite and other layered materials provides low-cost inks enabling printed electronic devices, for example by inkjet printing. However, the limited quality of the 2D-material inks, the complexity of the layered arrangement, and the lack of a dielectric 2D-material ink able to operate at room temperature, under strain and after several washing cycles has impeded the fabrication of electronic devices on textile with fully printed 2D heterostructures. Here we demonstrate fully inkjet-printed 2D-material active heterostructures with graphene and hexagonal-boron nitride (h-BN) inks, and use them to fabricate all inkjet-printed flexible and washable field-effect transistors on textile, reaching a field-effect mobility of ~91 cm(2) V(-1) s(-1), at low voltage (<5 V). This enables fully inkjet-printed electronic circuits, such as reprogrammable volatile memory cells, complementary inverters and OR logic gates.

Concepts: Electricity, Integrated circuit, Transistor, Printing, Inkjet printer, Ink, Electronics, Logic gate


Stimuli-responsive hydrogels exhibiting physical or chemical changes in response to environmental conditions have attracted growing attention for the past few decades. Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm), a temperature responsive hydrogel, has been extensively studied in various fields of science and engineering. However, manufacturing of PNIPAAm has been heavily relying on conventional methods such as molding and lithography techniques that are inherently limited to a two-dimensional (2D) space. Here we report the three-dimensional (3D) printing of PNIPAAm using a high-resolution digital additive manufacturing technique, projection micro-stereolithography (PμSL). Control of the temperature dependent deformation of 3D printed PNIPAAm is achieved by controlling manufacturing process parameters as well as polymer resin composition. Also demonstrated is a sequential deformation of a 3D printed PNIPAAm structure by selective incorporation of ionic monomer that shifts the swelling transition temperature of PNIPAAm. This fast, high resolution, and scalable 3D printing method for stimuli-responsive hydrogels may enable many new applications in diverse areas, including flexible sensors and actuators, bio-medical devices, and tissue engineering.

Concepts: Inkjet printer, Lithography, 3D printing, Rapid manufacturing, Additive manufacturing


Archer fish knock down insects anchored to vegetation by hitting them with a precisely aimed jet of water. The striking force of the jet at the impact is such to overcome the strong anchoring forces of insects. The origin of the effectiveness of such hunting mechanism has been long searched for inside of the fish, in the unsuccessful attempt to identify internal structures dedicated to the amplification of muscular power. Here we perform a kinematic analysis of the jet emitted by two specimens of Toxotes jaculatrix. We estimate that at the impact the jet conveys a typical specific power of about 3000 W/kg, which is well above the maximum specific power of the order of 500 W/kg deliverable by a vertebrate muscle. Unexpectedly, we find that the amplification of muscular power occurs outside of the fish, and is due to a hydrodynamic instability of the jet akin to those occurring in Drop-on-Demand inkjet printing. The investigated fish are found to modulate the velocity of the jet at the orifice to favor the formation of a single, large, water drop that hits the prey abruptly with a large momentum. The observed mechanism represents a remarkable example of use of an external hydrodynamic lever that does possibly not entail the high evolutionary cost needed for the development of highly specialized internal structures dedicated to the storing of mechanical energy.

Concepts: Energy, Fundamental physics concepts, Fluid dynamics, Muscle, Force, Classical mechanics, Inkjet printer, Water jet cutter


The coevolutionary relationships between brood parasites and their hosts are often studied by examining the egg rejection behaviour of host species using artificial eggs. However, the traditional methods for producing artificial eggs out of plasticine, plastic, wood, or plaster-of-Paris are laborious, imprecise, and prone to human error. As an alternative, 3D printing may reduce human error, enable more precise manipulation of egg size and shape, and provide a more accurate and replicable protocol for generating artificial stimuli than traditional methods. However, the usefulness of 3D printing technology for egg rejection research remains to be tested. Here, we applied 3D printing technology to the extensively studied egg rejection behaviour of American robins, Turdus migratorius. Eggs of the robin’s brood parasites, brown-headed cowbirds, Molothrus ater, vary greatly in size and shape, but it is unknown whether host egg rejection decisions differ across this gradient of natural variation. We printed artificial eggs that encompass the natural range of shapes and sizes of cowbird eggs, painted them to resemble either robin or cowbird egg colour, and used them to artificially parasitize nests of breeding wild robins. In line with previous studies, we show that robins accept mimetically coloured and reject non-mimetically coloured artificial eggs. Although we found no evidence that subtle differences in parasitic egg size or shape affect robins' rejection decisions, 3D printing will provide an opportunity for more extensive experimentation on the potential biological or evolutionary significance of size and shape variation of foreign eggs in rejection decisions. We provide a detailed protocol for generating 3D printed eggs using either personal 3D printers or commercial printing services, and highlight additional potential future applications for this technology in the study of egg rejection.

Concepts: Inkjet printer, American Robin, Brood parasite, Cowbird, Brood parasites, Molothrus, Brown-headed Cowbird, True thrush