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4D printing to create shape changing structures

In a first, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used a technology called four dimensional (4D) printing to create a structure that can change shape without external intervention.

The new technology marks an advancement over 3D printing that allows one to print a range of items including toys, chocolates or medical devices, all while sitting in a living room.

The so-called four dimensional printing involves 3D printing items that are designed to change shape after they are printed.

“We can now generate structures that will change shape and functionality without external intervention,” says lead study author Dan Raviv.

The researchers printed the shape-shifting 3D structure using two materials — a stiff plastic, and a “secret” water absorbent material that could double in volume when submerged in water.

The researchers printed up a square grid and found that when they placed the grid in water, the water-absorbent material could produce a broad range of shapes.

“The most exciting part is the numerous applications that can emerge from this work,” Raviv added.

“This is not just a cool project or an interesting solution, but something that can change the lives of many,” he said.

The scientists noted that such 4D-printed items could one day be used in everything from medical implants to home appliances.

The study appeared in the journal Scientific Reports.


Dan Raviv, Wei Zhao, Carrie McKnelly,Athina Papadopoulou, Achuta Kadambi,Boxin Shi,Shai Hirsch, Daniel Dikovsky, Michael Zyracki, Carlos Olguin, Ramesh Raskar & Skylar Tibbits. Active Printed Materials for Complex Self-Evolving Deformations. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 7422 doi:10.1038/srep07422

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