A team of researchers from Nottingham University in the UK have proved that advanced materials containing molecules that switch states in response to environmental stimuli such as light can be fabricated using 3D printing. This in turn would benefit industries such as electronics, healthcare and quantum computing.
The team was led by Dr Victor Sans Sangorrin, assistant professor from the Faculty of Engineering and Dr Graham Newton, a research fellow from the School of Chemistry. Dr Sans explains: “This bottom-up approach to device fabrication will push the boundaries of additive manufacturing like never before. Using a unique integrated design approach, we have demonstrated functional synergy between photochromic molecules and polymers in a fully 3D-printed device. Our approach expands the toolbox of advanced materials available to engineers developing devices for real-world problems.”
In order to demonstrate the concept, the team developed a photoactive molecule that changes from colourless to blue when irradiated with light. The colour change can then be reversed by exposure to oxygen from the air. The researchers then 3D-printed composite materials by combining the photoactive molecules with a tailor-made polymer, yielding a new material that can store information reversibly.
Dr Newton concludes: “We can now take any molecules that change properties upon exposure to light and print them into composites with almost any shape or size. In theory, it would be possible to reversibly encode something quite complex like a QR code or a barcode, and then wipe the material clean, almost like cleaning a whiteboard with an eraser. While our devices currently operate using colour changes, this approach could be used to develop materials for energy storage and electronics.”
This research is supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the German Academic Exchange service (DAAD) and the University of Nottingham. The findings have been published in the academic journal, Advanced Materials.