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Scientists built a 3D printer that can print objects smaller than red blood cells

When it comes to tech, it seems as though the most impressive sizes are always on opposite ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, 3D-printed luxury homes are making waves as a revolutionary new development, but on the other hand, a team from South Korea is garnering significant attention for their equally impressive (though much physically smaller) accomplishment. Researchers from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a new high-resolution 3D printer that layers special inks to form tiny 3D forms, some as small as just 0.001 millimeters. To put this in perspective, bear in mind that a single human red blood cell ranges in size between 0.006 and 0.008 millimeters, meaning these new printers are printing truly microscopic objects.

This printer actually operates similarly to the ones the average inkjet printer the American consumer is accustomed to, but instead of your day-to-day cartridges, the electrohydrodynamic inkjet employs very specific inks that stack upon one another to form tiny 3D objects, including arched bridges, zig-zags, and even pillars.

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Whereas the current 3D printers on the market have trouble creating smooth objects, and instead have more obvious, rougher textures that reveal how they were made, these new printers may eliminate this shortcoming by operating at high rates of precision. These printers could also be used to help manufacture objects where small size is key, like computer chips, circuit boards, and other items that have only gotten smaller as technology has become more advanced.

Park Jang-ung, the material science and engineering professor leading the initiative, believes that this new technology “will provide a new paradigm in the research field of 3D printing.”

“The existing ultrafine pattern production methods in semiconductor manufacturing procedure had difficulties in reproducing 3D patterns,” Park says. “But this new technology can realize those in high resolution. We believe the technology has set a new paradigm for research using 3D printing and wearable electronic devices.”

Bigger isn’t always better, and this latest form of 3D printing really drives that point home.