Star Trek Technology - 4D Printing!

The development and advancement of 3D printing continues to move forward at a rate of knots. Back in February this year, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology successfully created a material that could change shape by the insertion of polymer fibres into regular 3D printing materials.

Now scientists at Colorado University have taken this technology one step further and revealed a substance that really does deserve the label of “shape shifter”. The researchers have developed a material that has the ability to contort into a number of different pre-determined shapes upon exposure to the various elements; water, heat etc. Associate Professor Jerry Qi and Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Martin Dunn have taken the material and advanced its capabilities to the next level.

Because of the time element involved in the transformation processes, this new wonder material has been dubbed, “4D printing”. Dunn explained that the initial configuration is created using 3D printing. His background makes this complex and remarkable process credible. Dunn has 20 years’ experience studying the physics and mechanics of composite materials as a former mechanical engineering faculty member of CU-Boulder.

So, how does it work? The trick is in the location of the shape-shifting polymer fibres in the 3D printing material. The most fascinating thing, according to Associate Professor Qi, is that the final shapes are actually defined at the design stage and this has not been achievable until now. As if this wasn’t science fiction enough, it seems that the Colorado University Team actually developed this new shape-shifting material for the NASA space programme. Transporting anything bulky into outer space is a problem because of space constraints on board rockets, shuttle craft and the like. The new material could be folded into a tiny package which would take up minimal room. When the space craft reaches its designated orbit, the object could be jettisoned and exposed to the vacuum of space where it could then transform itself into whatever object was required; a satellite dish for example.

It seems that 3D printing technology continues to boldly go where no technology has gone before; except perhaps in James Bond movies!

Image source: Flickr

Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies.

Alison Page