Researchers Develop Revolutionary Chip-Based 3D Printer

Researchers Develop Revolutionary Chip-Based 3D Printer

Key Points:

  • Researchers developed the first chip-based 3D printer. The millimeter-scale photonic chip emits reconfigurable light beams to cure resin into solid shapes.
  • The printer combines silicon photonics and photochemistry for rapid 3D printing. Could revolutionize medical device creation and rapid prototyping.
  • Aims to develop a chip that projects a 3D hologram for volumetric printing—a collaboration between MIT and UT Austin.
  • The research appeared in Nature Light Science and Applications and was supported by various U.S. foundations and fellowships.

Imagine holding a portable 3D printer in the palm of your hand, capable of creating customized, low-cost objects instantly. Researchers from MIT and the University of Texas at Austin have taken a significant step towards making this a reality by developing the first chip-based 3D printer. This breakthrough device consists of a millimeter-scale photonic chip that emits reconfigurable beams of light into a resin well, curing the resin into solid shapes upon exposure.

The proof-of-concept chip features an array of tiny optical antennas that steer the light beam without moving parts. When this beam is directed into a specially designed liquid resin, the resin quickly solidifies, forming 3D objects within seconds. This innovative approach combines silicon photonics with photochemistry, allowing the chip to precisely create complex two-dimensional patterns, such as the letters M-I-T.

Looking ahead, the research team envisions a future where a photonic chip could project a 3D hologram of visible light, curing an entire object in a single step. Such a portable 3D printer could revolutionize various fields, enabling clinicians to create custom medical device components on-site and allowing engineers to produce prototypes rapidly.

“This system redefines what a 3D printer is,” says senior author Jelena Notaros, the Robert J. Shillman Career Development Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. “It transforms the concept from a bulky machine into a handheld, portable device. The potential applications are exciting and could significantly change the field of 3D printing.”

The research team included Sabrina Corsetti, lead author and EECS graduate student at MIT; Milica Notaros, PhD ’23; Tal Sneh, an EECS graduate student at MIT; Alex Safford, a recent graduate of UT Austin; and Zak Page, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UT Austin. Their findings were published in Nature Light Science and Applications.

The Notaros group, experts in silicon photonics, previously developed optical-phased-array systems to steer light beams using microscale antennas on a chip. These systems, crucial for lidar sensors, were adapted to emit and steer visible light for this new 3D printing technology. Concurrently, the Page group at UT Austin developed photocurable resins that respond to visible light, providing the missing component to realize the chip-based 3D printer.

Their prototype, featuring a single photonic chip with 160-nanometer-thick optical antennas, fits onto a U.S. quarter. When powered by an off-chip laser, the antennas emit a steerable beam of visible light into the resin, solidifying it on contact. The team used liquid crystal modulators to control the light beam efficiently, ensuring precise 3D printing.

The U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the MIT Rolf G. Locher Endowed Fellowship, and the MIT Frederick and Barbara Cronin Fellowship supported this research.

TechGolly editorial team led by Al Mahmud Al Mamun. He worked as an Editor-in-Chief at a world-leading professional research Magazine. Rasel Hossain and Enamul Kabir are supporting as Managing Editor. Our team is intercorporate with technologists, researchers, and technology writers. We have substantial knowledge and background in Information Technology (IT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Embedded Technology.

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