Metal-polymer composite allows you to create stronger nanostructures printed on a 3D printer

3D printing technology is being used not only to create things as big as houses, but as small as snowflakes. The new material allows the latter to be much stronger than ever before and print significantly faster.

Developed by scientists at Stanford University, the composite material is intended primarily for use in nanoscale lattice structures used to protect tiny basic components (such as in electronics). It is made up of a polymer resin combined with tiny clumps of metal atoms known as metal nanoclusters.

In an existing process called two-photon lithography, a laser illuminates a liquid mixture of resin. Wherever the very center of this beam hits one of the nanoclusters, a chemical reaction takes place, causing the resin to harden in that particular area. Thus, by precisely moving the laser beam through the resin, very small complex objects can be created.

When gratings printed from this particular material were tested, they were found to be capable of absorbing twice as much energy as gratings printed from other commonly used materials. Depending on the type of grating made from the new composite, some of them were excellent at handling heavy loads without deforming, while others were excellent at compressing to absorb impacts and then returning to their original undamaged shape.

As an added bonus, when the gratings were printed, the metal nanoclusters allowed the chemical reaction to occur much faster than other materials that used other types of light-sensitive molecules. This effect was noted even when using a number of different polymers in the composite – in one case, when a protein-based polymer was used, products could be printed 100 times faster than was previously possible with such polymers.

“There is now a lot of interest in developing different types of 3D structures for mechanical performance,” said the assistant. Professor Wendy Gu, Corresponding Author of the article on the study. “On top of that, we developed a material that resists forces really well, so that it’s not only a three-dimensional structure, but also a material that provides very good protection.”

The article was recently published in the journal The science.

Source: Stanford University.

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