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3D printing with molten glass is just as mesmerizingly awesome as it sounds

Glass filament for 3D printing has been around for a few years at this point, but truth be told, the stuff that they sell right now generally isn’t 100 percent glass. Regular glass isn’t particularly printer-friendly, so the stuff they sell is usually glass-filled nylon, or some sort of composite that’s more malleable and easy to work with. Most printers just aren’t properly equipped to print regular ol’ glass.

This printer from MIT’s Mediated Matter group is a  lab is a completely different animal. The G3DP printer, as it’s called, doesn’t print in some sort of printer-friendly, glass-like composite — it prints straight-up molten glass, at temperatures upwards of 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit. And it’s not just any old kind of glass either. The printer is designed to create layers of optically transparent glass that can be tuned to change the way light is reflected or refracted as it passes through.

Here’s how it works. The printer consists of two different chambers — an upper one, where the glass is heated to a temperature of over 3,400 degrees Fahrenheit; and a lower chamber where the molten glass is extruded out through the print head onto the build platform. “The upper chamber acts as a Kiln Cartridge while the lower chamber serves to anneal the structures.” Mediated Matter explains in a blog post. “The Kiln Cartridge operates at approximately 1,900°F and can contain sufficient material to build a single architectural component. The molten material gets funneled through an alumina-zircon-silica nozzle.”

glass vase

According to the researchers, this printing technique has a wide range of potential applications. “G3DP is an additive manufacturing platform designed to print optically transparent glass. The tunability enabled by geometrical and optical variation driven by form, transparency and color variation can drive; limit or control light transmission, reflection, and refraction, and therefore carries significant implications for all things glass: aerodynamic building facades optimized for solar gain, geometrically customized and variable thickness lighting devices and so on.”

To demonstrate the printer’s capabilities, Mediated Matter used it to produce a range of different vases and sculptures. Each piece interacts with light in a different way, due to the pattern in which the glass is layered. In theory, these patterns can be adjusted and tuned to create objects for specific applications.

WE probably won’t see custom 3D printed glass building facades anytime soon, but if you want to see the sculptures in person, you’ll actually be able to check them out at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2016. Regardless of their practical applications, they sure are fun to look at.