Researchers at Washington State University have created a unique 3-D manufacturing method that quickly creates and precisely controls the architecture of the material from the nanoscale with results that mimic the naturally forming structures of materials such as wood or bone, according to a report on the school’s website.
Researchers examine the nanoscale structures they have created. (YouTube)
The team used 3-D printing to create microdroplets containing nanoparticles of silver and deposited them at specific locations. As the liquid that encased the particles evaporated, tiny structures were left. These structures, which were described as looking like Tinkertoys, were porous, had large surface areas, and were very strong.
This process was similar, according to the report, to how “desert roses” form out of evaporating fog droplets containing sulfur over the Sahara. Through this technique, researchers created microscaffolds, spirals, doughnut-shaped pillars, and more.
“Because it uses 3-D printing technology, the new method is highly efficient, creates minimal waste and allows for fast and large-scale manufacturing,” the article stated.
Among the applications for this type of manufacturing technique includes the production of nanoscale anodes and cathodes for batteries, which could lead to more efficient and high-powered materials for battery production than is currently possible.
The work was recently published in Science Advances. The report’s abstract read:
“Three-dimensional (3D) hierarchical materials are important to a wide range of emerging technological applications. We report a method to synthesize complex 3D micro-engineered materials, such as microlattices, with nearly fully dense truss elements with a minimum diameter of approximately 20 μm and having high aspect ratios (up to 20:1) without using any templating or supporting materials.
“By varying the post-processing conditions, we have also introduced an additional control over the internal porosity of the truss elements to demonstrate a hierarchical porous structure with an overall void size and feature size control of over five orders of magnitudes in length scale.
“The method uses direct printing of nanoparticle dispersions using the Aerosol Jet technology in 3D space without templating or supporting materials followed by binder removal and sintering. In addition to 3D microlattices, we have also demonstrated directly printed stretchable interconnects, spirals, and pillars.
“This assembly method could be implemented by a variety of microdroplet generation methods for fast and large-scale fabrication of the hierarchical materials for applications in tissue engineering, ultralight or multifunctional materials, microfluidics, and micro-optoelectronics.”
Learn more about the process in the video below: