Cholesteric liquid crystals is an artificial material that is between solid and liquid properties, resulting in a substance that has a similar appearance to the colors found on butterfly wings. The product is a type of crystal that is used in a lot of technology today, including smartphones and TVs, and it is expected that it will have several medical applications, particularly in 3D printing. Initially, it was not a reliable substance for printing because it did not have adequate viscosity to be stable. Recent research was looking into ways to create an ink form of the material that would be more reliable for 3D printing. Part of the process to make it more solid is through the actual printing where the ink version of the material passes through a nozzle onto the surface layer-by-layer where it will be formed into the 3D print. To make it more solid, the material was made to be more solid by having the printer being compatible with direct-ink-writing.
The new method of creating printing with the material ensures that the ink has several important properties:
- The material’s molecules are formed in a helical alignment.
- The molecules can create structures that reflect the different colors of iridescent materials.
- It is more viscous so that it will print a reliably stable product.
Though it is novel, the ink is easy to make and goes through printing with relative ease. It does require that the printing be set at a particular speed and temperature for optimal effect. During the initial trials with the new version of the ink, the researchers actually printed butterfly wings, giving the printout a much more realistic version of butterfly wings than other kinds of ink produced. Researchers also found that they had more control on a molecular level with this particular ink as they were working to align over a much smaller scale. It provided a level of control that had previously only been available with highly specialized fabrication devices.
The research has been very promising for the medical profession, which is already using 3D printing for other medical devices and tools. Researchers are considering the application for things like unobtrusive biosensors and optical structures.
For more on this incredibly fascinating technology with some unique possibilities, you can read the full article at A New Liquid Crystal Ink for 3D Printing.