Since the 2010 Nobel Committee awarded the physics prize to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two researchers who discovered graphene, interest in the material has risen.
Earlier this year, Sweden's prestigious Chalmers University of Technology received a 1 billion grant to "take graphene out of the labs and into people's lives." In the US, minerals giant American Graphite Technologies formed a partnership with the Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology (KIPT) to research graphene's use in 3D printing.
The US/KIPT venture, known as P600, funds the work of eight scientists who plan to focus on graphene's role in nanoelectronics and nanotechnology.
Graphene's unique flexibility and strength properties make it attractive for use in flexible touch screens and; its sensitivity to even a single molecule of another substance shows promise in gas monitoring equipment. Graphene is already being used in optoelectronics, solar panels, batteries and capacitors.
In North Carolina, university scientists were able to use 3D printing to liquid metal structures. Liquid beads were stacked on top of each other to create wires and connectors for electronic equipment.
While liquid metal spheres have a natural tendency to blend together into larger droplets, the NCSU were able to solve that problem. "We've found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a 'skin' that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes," said Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering, in a statement.
3D Printing Metal could have massive benefits to a host of applications.
Advances in 3D printing have accelerated as research funding pours in. Harvard researchers developed a 3D printing technique that allowed them to print a fully functional lithium ion battery smaller than a grain of sand.
The tiny battery would have applications in nanotechnology like miniature medical implants, for example, that need an energy source small enough to fit within the device. Jennifer Lewis, a professor with the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-author of the study, said, “Not only did we demonstrate for the first time that we can 3D-print a battery; we demonstrated it in the most rigorous way."
Expect continued explosive growth in technological advances using 3D printers and high-tech materials. Two major 3D patents expire in 2014, leaving the field wide open to innovation by scientists and researchers.
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Further Reading: Chalmers, Wall Street Journal, American Graphite Technologies, NCSU, Computerworld
Image Credit: photos.com