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Light waves allow scientists to 3D print with multiple materials

They hope the chemistry-based approach will make more complex objects possible.
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kynny via Getty Images

3D printing can already create sensors for NASA rovers, rocket engines, safer football helmets, dentures. Name it, and it seems like it can be 3D printed. But the technology is still pretty limited, partly because most 3D printing systems can only make parts made of one material at a time. Now, researchers at the University of Wisconsin have discovered a way to use light to 3D print with more than one material.

Today, most 3D printers that lay down multiple materials use separate reservoirs. This new chemistry-based approach uses a single reservoir with two monomers (the molecules that are joined together to create a 3D-printed substance). Then, either ultraviolet or visible light is used to link those monomers together. Depending on which light is used, the final product will have different properties, like stiffness. The researchers hope this single-reservoir approach could be more practical than using multiple reservoirs of material.

This isn't the first time researchers have used light to control 3D printing, and this concept still needs some fine tuning. At the moment, researchers have only achieved putting hard materials next to soft material. And it will take time before scientists know which monomers work together in a single reservoir, but they hope "wavelength-controlled, multi-material 3D printing" will make more complex objects possible.

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