Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers are working on the nanoscale to create crystals from billions of individual colloids using a process called “direct-write colloidal assembly.”
Wondering what colloids are? The researchers define them as large or small molecules or particles that are suspended in a liquid or gas. Examples include fog or even heavy cream. The particles are between 1 nanometer and 1 micrometer across.
Colloids, such as polymer nanoparticles, are 3D printed by the researchers in a highly ordered arrangement. By doing this, they can build up crystals as high as a centimeter.
Study co-author Alvin Tan, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said: “If you blew up each particle to the size of a soccer ball, it would be like stacking a whole lot of soccer balls to make something as tall as a skyscraper. That’s what we’re doing at the nanoscale.”
The researchers explain that the technology enables them to build self-assembled materials to leverage the nanocrystal properties but at a larger scale. For example, for light-guided electronics, optical sensors, and color displays.
During their tests, the researchers printed structures which interact with light in specific ways, including helices and tiny towers.
Tan explains: “If you could 3D print a circuit that manipulates photons instead of electrons, that could pave the way for future applications in light-based computing, that manipulate light instead of electricity so that devices can be faster and more energy efficient.”
Until the researcher’s work, it’s only been possible to create colloidal assemblies of thin films or planar structures. The researchers explain that this is the first time that it’s been proven that building macroscale self-assembled colloidal materials is possible.
But, they’re feeling confident in their work and even believe that the technique can build any 3D shape, and be applied to an incredible variety of materials.
The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Singapore Defense Science Organization Postgraduate Fellowship, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program.
To find out more about the 3D printing process used by the researchers, make sure to read their published findings in the journal, Advanced Materials.
License: The text of "MIT Engineers 3D Print Crystals from Billions of Colloids" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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