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Jan 19, 2017 06:49 AM EST

MIT Scientists Create Shapeshifting 3D Printing Technique

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Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were able to come up with a new 3D printing technique that allows printed objects to be modified. They were able to grow or shrink the size of the object as well as change its color and shape.

MIT News reported that chemists at the institution have developed a technique that enables them to print objects and go back to add polymers, which changes the materials' chemical composition as well as mechanical properties. With this, the researchers were also able to combine two or more printed objects to form more complex structures.

Initially, 3D printing technology produces objects by depositing polymers layer by layer. Once the objects have been printed, the polymers are considered "dead." This means that they cannot be modified to form new polymer chains.

The new technique is called living polymerization. Jeremiah Johnson, the Firmenich Career Development Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT, said that it could expand the complexity of the objects created through 3D printing.

Johnson and his team were able to demonstrate that a type of polymerization stimulated by ultraviolet light can be used to add new features to 3D-printed materials. After printing, the scientists used ultraviolet light to separate the polymers at specific points.

This led to the creation of reactive molecules called free radicals. It was noted that these would then bind to new monomers for a solution around the object and would merge them into the original material.

According to Inc., this would greatly benefit manufacturers as it would allow them to develop adaptable materials easily. These materials can be used in construction or medicine.

The new technique by MIT scientists is limited to an oxygen-free environment, though. This is because of the properties of the catalysts used. It was noted that the researchers are continuing to develop the process so that the 3D printing technique can be used in an open-air setting.

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