Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022 - 13

Q & A
Liquid-Solid Co-Printing of Complete Functional Systems
Professor Robert
MacCurdy and his
team at the University
of Colorado at Boulder
have developed
and characterized a
method to print 3D
structures with the simultaneous
use of different
materials, including liquids and
solids, to produce complete functional
systems, not just individual components.
Tech Briefs: What got you started
on this project?
Professor Robert MacCurdy: My background
is in robotics, and I got really excited
at the beginning of my Ph.D work,
in trying to think about ways that we
could automate the design and fabrication
of robots - that is still the central
motivation of my work.
My goal is to develop tools that allow
human designers to very rapidly respond
to new needs and very rapidly design, and
then fabricate robots for those needs.
Tech Briefs: Can you tell us more
about the process?
MacCurdy: Typically, all inkjet inks are
deposited as a liquid and then they are
exposed to heat or light and they transition
into a solid. But if we also include
materials that permanently stay as a liquid,
we can use the liquid as a support
material.
We have three different scenarios,
based on the two different materials we
are considering. If one of the materials is
more buoyant than the other, they will
separate like water and oil. If there are
surface tension differentials between the
two materials, the upper droplet, which
otherwise would fall through the lower,
would be maintained on the interface by
its surface tension.
And finally, even if the density is
wrong, and even if the surface tension is
wrong, if you can photopolymerize it
rapidly enough so that it transitions from
a liquid to a solid while it's still at the surTech
Briefs, June 2022
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face and you have other droplets adjacent
to it, they're also photopolymerizing.
Then you could potentially create
physical structures that would be locked
in place and not continue to sink down
through the liquid.
That allows us to print structures, for
example, spirals, which would be impossible
to clean out using existing support
materials. The inkjet method requires
support material but eventually you have
to remove it.
However, existing support materials
are quite difficult to remove from channels
in the sort of complicated spiral and
capillary-like structure that we created in
our lab. In our method, because the support
material is so low in viscosity, it easily
flows out of all the channels with a little bit
of fluid flow.
We print the solid and the liquid at the
same time. So, it's all ready to go as soon as
you wash the support material off.
Tech Briefs: Is what you're working
on is sort of the basic nuts
and bolts that could be used to
build things in the future?
MacCurdy: That's right - we want to add
more paints to the painter's palette. And
liquid is an important one because it conveys
advantages that just adding a different
color of a solid wouldn't necessarily help.
We are going to continue with the
theme of robots but explore and expand
on the different kinds of structures that
we can make.
Read the full transcript of this Q&A at
www.techbriefs.com.
TB QA 0622_1.indd 15
Cov
ToC
5/19/22 1:01 PM
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Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022

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Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022 - Intro
Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022 - Sponsor
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Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022 - Cov1
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