A team of German researchers have developed a way to 3D-print objects made from pure glass.
Scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have recently published an article in Nature which details a way to 3D-print objects in glass, and also details the various applications they believe the technology could have. 3D-printing has become a large industry in recent years, and have gone from being a novel proof-of-concept to a proven technique used in research laboratories as well as hobbyists’ garages. Initially, plastic was the go-to method, but as the technology has matured, ceramics and even metal 3D-printing has become possible. It seems only appropriate that glass, too, should enter the fold.
The researchers state that there are some significant reasons for why glass printing is an important development. For one, glass offers resistance to chemical and thermal damage. The new development hinges on the team’s discovery of what they’re calling “liquid glass”; a nano composite of glass nanoparticles suspended in a photo-curable prepolymer. That’s a mouthful, but essentially, it means tiny particles of glass suspended in a resin that hardens when exposed to light.The liquid solution is used as ink for the printer, and once the shape of the object has been designed, the model is moved into an oven. In the oven, the prepolymer material is burned off, and the glass particles melt, fusing together to form a solid glass structure. What’s left after the heat treatment is a 3D-model in pure glass.
The scientists state that the precision and scale of the models depends only on the size and precision of the printer, just as with other 3D-printing techniques. To demonstrate their printer’s capabilities, they produced a tiny pretzel, castle, and honeycomb structure, and eagerly related that in the future, the technology could be used to manufacture everything from large scale facades on sky scrapers, to tiny lenses for cameras and microscopes. They also note that in the future, they believe the 3D-printer will be a household object, and it’s likely we may one day fashion our own windows or glassware from the comfort of our own homes.