New 3D Printing Method for Creating Silicone Structures Using Self-Assembled Microgels

An oil-based "bath," or support system has been developed by researchers to facilitate precise 3D printing of silicon materials in different shapes. They showed the capability of this technique by using it to produce a functional fluid pump and model tracheal implants, among other items related to biomedicine.

The emergence of 3D printing at the beginning of the 1980s led to expectations that the technique would turn out to be the tool of choice for manufacturing medical components from biocompatible materials like silicone. However, up to now, this possibility has not been fully realized, at least for silicone-based materials, due partially to uncertainties between silicone inks and the microgel systems that support 3D printing processes. These microgels are engineered to trap the printed material, and under the precise conditions, to become sufficiently fluid for printing of a desired item to happen. This can be applied for aqueous soft materials, though printing of silicone materials has had limited success; a versatile, oil-based microgel material that could be tweaked to imitate aqueous microgels has been necessary. Here, Christopher S. O'Bryan reports such a microgel, one that removes uncertainties between printed materials and their microgel support. Their substance has triblock and diblock copolymers, a blend that the authors discovered allows for the polymers inside the microgel to enlarge but not lock together.


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