Game-Changing Finding Pushes 3D-Printing to the Molecular Limit

By Emma Lowry | Faculty of Engineering | University of Nottingham

19 June 2018 – New University of Nottingham research proves that advanced materials containing molecules that switch states in response to environmental stimuli such as light can be fabricated using 3D printing.

The study findings have the potential to vastly increase the functional capabilities of 3D-printed devices for industries such as electronics, healthcare and quantum computing.

The research, led by Dr Victor Sans Sangorrin from the Faculty of Engineering and Dr Graham Newton from the School of Chemistry, is published in the academic journal, Advanced Materials.

“This bottom-up approach to device fabrication will push the boundaries of additive manufacturing like never before. Using a unique integrated design approach, we have demonstrated functional synergy between photochromic molecules and polymers in a fully 3D-printed device. Our approach expands the toolbox of advanced materials available to engineers developing devices for real-world problems,” explains Dr Sans.

Photochromic molecule (Photo courtesy of the University of Nottingham )

Photochromic molecule (Photo courtesy of the University of Nottingham )

To demonstrate their concept, the team developed a photoactive molecule that changes from colourless to blue when irradiated with light. The colour change can then be reversed by exposure to oxygen from the air.

The researchers then 3D-printed composite materials by combining the photoactive molecules with a tailor-made polymer, yielding a new material that can store information reversibly.

Dr Newton, said: “We can now take any molecules that change properties upon exposure to light and print them into composites with almost any shape or size. In theory, it would be possible to reversibly encode something quite complex like a QR code or a barcode, and then wipe the material clean, almost like cleaning a whiteboard with an eraser. While our devices currently operate using colour changes, this approach could be used to develop materials for energy storage and electronics.”

The research is supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the German Academic Exchange service (DAAD) and the University of Nottingham.

About University of Nottingham
The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world’s top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students – Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia – part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner – locally and globally.

Source: University of Nottingham

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