Scientists Develop Ability To Pattern Liquids Into Arbitrarily Shaped Microstructures

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 5.26.35 PMResearchers at North Carolina State University discovered a way to pattern liquids into arbitrarily shaped microstructures using 3D printing. The team found an alloy of gallium and indium that’s liquid at room temperature and forms a skin when touched by air. Many techniques grant freestanding liquid structures the ability to retain their shape, but interfacial tension usually limits this technology to the production of spheres. We asked Zintro experts in 3D printing to discuss what the freedom to pattern materials into microstructures of any shape means for their various industries.

According to Andrew Werby who specializes in 3D printing and prototyping of sculptures, the “upsurge of interest in 3D printing lately [is] largely related to the expiration of patents on the hot plastic extrusion process and the consequent explosion of consumer-level devices into the maker community; But these machines are quite limited in what they can do both in terms of resolution and in the restrictions on part configuration they require.”

Ricardo Carrillo, an engineer and analyst of performance-based structures with  expertise in 3D product design software explains that the “[combination of] precise placement and volumetric control demonstrated by this new process developed by NCSU is the next logical step to producing nanoscale manufacturing methods.” “The utilization of air as the catalyst is both economical and presents an easy environmental platform for general deployment. Differing air temperature ranges and gas mixtures may provide an opportunity to expand the range of materials for this technology,” but “In order for the technology to be useful in larger scale applications, the thermal performance range of the metal deposits after they have interacted with the air and set will need to be addressed to ensure that when the environmental variables are modified by use, that no loss in performance or connectivity occurs.”

Carrillo points out that while “Producing both extruded and spheroid shapes will provide the flexibility to provide a continuous manufacturing process when developing printed circuits and thereby lower the cost of production if implemented into an assembly line…As the process rate is accelerated, the challenges and opportunities will develop for more responsive and larger scale applications.” He concludes that “The scale of production shows great promise for micro-structure constructs, though as a 3D printing technology for scales above that, it would seem that more research needs to be done.”

By Gabriela Meller

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