Polymerization with visible light takes additive manufacturing to fourth dimension

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The reutilisation of plastic and delivering cancer drugs more effectively are two potential applications of a 4D printing technology developed by researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney in Australia and the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

The researchers report the successful merging of 3D printing and photo-controlled/living polymerization – a chemical process for creating polymers, in the paper Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

In 4D printing the printed object transforms its shape in response to certain conditions (Watch the video below),

The researchers use visible light to create an environmentally friendly ‘living’ plastic or polymer, and the industry view this as a new world of possibilities for the manufacture of advanced solid materials.

The research built upon PET-RAFT (photoinduced electron/energy transfer-reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer) polymerization, a new way to make controlled polymers using visible light. These polymers can be reactivated for further growth, unlike traditional polymers which are ‘dead’ after being made. Since this development, the technology has expanded and proven useful for making well-controlled molecules for many applications, including drug delivery.

Cyrille Boyer, Lead Author at UNSW Sydney stated that his team’s latest breakthrough involved the development of a new 3D printing system that takes advantage of PET-RAFT polymerization to allow 3D printed materials to be easily modified after printing,

Controlled polymerization has never been used in 3D and 4D printing before, because the rates of typical controlled polymerization processes are too slow for 3D/4D printing, where the reaction must be fast for practical printing speeds,”(…), After two years of research and hundreds of experiments, we developed a rapid process compatible with 3D printing.”


The researchers are hopeful that their new 3D/4D printing process will lead to the production of functional materials able to solve many of the problems facing society today. Boyer also said that the new method has a multitude of applications for everyday items – particularly if a deformed or broken object needs to be repaired or modified.

“The main application is of course recycling, because instead of using a plastic object once, it can be repaired and reused.,(…), For ordinary recycling you take the materials away and have to reconstruct them, but for the new ‘living’ material it will be able to repair itself. For example, if you want to put the UNSW logo on a mug, you can modify the surface of the object and grow the polymers to show UNSW because the object is not dead; it’s a living object and can continue to grow and expand.”

– Cyrille Boyer

UNSW’s Nathaniel Corrigan, a co-first author of the paper with UNSW PhD candidate Zhiheng Zhang said that a bonus advantage of their new system was the ability to finely control all molecules in the 3D-printed material and enhanced that the major benefit is its compatibility with biomedicine, as it didn’t require extreme conditions.

“Current 3D printing approaches are typically limited by the harsh conditions required, such as strong UV light and toxic chemicals, which limits their use in making biomaterials,”, (…), “But with the application of PET-RAFT polymerization to 3D printing, we can produce long polymer molecules using visible light rather than heat, which is the typical polymerization method. Using heat above 40°C kills cells, but for visible light polymerization we can use room temperature, so the viability of the cells is much higher.”, said Carrigan.

Objects made through this new process could more easily be used in advanced bio-applications, such as tissue engineering, where a tissue structure is used to form new, viable tissue for medical purposes.

The new technique would allow commercial and non-expert operators to produce materials with seemingly endless properties and applications.

We want to explore our system to find and address any limitations to allow for better uptake and implementation of this technology,” ,(…), There is so much we can do by combining 3D and 4D printing with controlled polymerization to make advanced and functional materials for many applications to benefit society.”

-Cyrille Boyer

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Materials Today Living polymerization takes 3D printing into fourth dimension https://www.materialstoday.com/additive-manufacturing/news/living-polymerization-3d-printing/ published on Dec2 2019, re-edited and published by Rob Parker on Dec7 2019;

The B1M What is 4D Printing? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyK4BzbxcdU published on Mar13 2017, re-edited and published by Rob Parker on Dec7 2019;

Featured Image & Article Photo:

Life Boat Foundation https://lifeboat.com/blog/2019/08/what-is-4d-printing published on Aug24 2019, re-edited and published by Rob Parker on Dec7 2019;

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