Scientists unveil new ‘4D-printing’ technique that produces shape-shifting objects

Though the practice of 3D printing is still firmly entrenched in its journey from fledgling idea to emerging technology, news out of Harvard’s Wyss Institute this week proves innovation waits for no one. According to a published press release, a team of researchers at the esteemed Ivy League school have taken the concept of 3D printing and upped the ante by adding a fourth dimension: time. Taking on the obvious label of 4D printing, the group’s inventive take on additive manufacturing uses a gel-like composite to print flat objects which then have the ability to dramatically alter their shape when submerged in water.

Developed under the management of the study’s senior author Jennifer Lewis, the gel-like composite ink used for the prints contains miniature fibers of cellulose, an organic compound found in plants. Moreover, a plant’s ability to alter their shape and formation based on environmental stimuli was one of the biggest influences when Lewis’ team created 4D printing. Specifically, the group intended to develop a printable substance capable of mimicking the way plants respond and react to precipitation or sunlight. The resulting cellulose-heavy composite allowed them to accomplish this very goal.

“Using one composite ink printed in a single step, we can achieve shape-changing hydrogel geometries containing more complexity than any other technique, and we do so simply by modifying the print path,” says co-lead author and graduate research assistant A. Sydney Gladman. “What’s more, we can interchange different materials to tune for properties such as conductivity or biocompatibility.”

Before printing, Lewis and her team have the ability to adjust the extent to which each object will swell when immersed in water by choosing how to align the fibers of cellulose. While aligning the cells, the printer then encodes the hydrogel ink for specific anistropic stiffness and swelling. It’s the cellulose’s anistropic quality that allows the team to accurately predict how the object may shift its shape when exposed to water. Because of this, the team developed a precise mathematical model which allows them to program and tune the prints to whatever they desire.

“What’s remarkable about this 4D printing advance made by Jennifer and her team is that it enables the design of almost any arbitrary, transformable shape from a wide range of available materials with different properties and potential applications, truly establishing a new platform for printing self-assembling, dynamic microscale structures that could be applied to a broad range of industrial and medical applications,” says Wyss Institute director Donald Ingber.

Moving forward, the team intends to see how well its 4D printing model does printing live, active tissue. Whereas a 3D-printed organ may allow for the production of a working replacement organ, advancements in 4D printing could allow for the creation of actively adaptive cells — i.e. as the body changes, so too would the implanted 4D-printed tissue. These are obviously incredibly lofty goals for a tech in its infancy, but if anyone’s going to do it, why not a team of scientists from Harvard University?

Product Review

Fascinating Finney phone is crypto in a nutshell: Exciting, but also terrifying

The Sirin Labs Finney phone is to cryptocurrency what the iPhone is to Apple Pay. It facilitates the payment, processing, and exchanging of cryptocurrencies on a smartphone, and surprisingly does it in a user-friendly way.
Computing

Zipping files on a Chromebook? Follow these four easy steps

Chromebooks support file compression, though they work a little differently than on Windows or Mac. Here's the step-by-step process to zipping files on a Chromebook, and then unzipping them again for extraction.
Gaming

Learn to uninstall a Steam game and clear some space on your PC

Looking to learn how to uninstall Steam games? You've come to the right place. In this guide, we walk you through the process step by step, whether you want Steam to do it for you or handle the process manually.
Gaming

Clear up some space on your Xbox One hard drive for the latest games

Removing and reinstalling games on the Xbox One's hard drive isn't difficult, but it's a process that not everyone is familiar with. Thankfully, our guide will run you through each step.
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.
Emerging Tech

Baristas beware, Bbox cafe uses robots to brew your morning coffee

Want your morning coffee and pastry prepared by robot? Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California, lets customers place their order by app and then uses automation to take care of the rest.
Emerging Tech

This ridiculous new flamethrower makes Elon Musk’s look like a cigarette lighter

The XL18 Flamethrower is a flame-shooting beast on steroids, capable of firing off bursts of flame more than 110 feet in length. The best part? You can order it over the internet today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX just nailed its most challenging Falcon 9 rocket landing to date

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Touchdown! Japan successfully lands its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency has just completed the latest stage of its extraordinarily complex mission, successfully landing its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.
Emerging Tech

Delivery drones: NASA to test advanced traffic control system for cities

Delivery drone services are edging closer as NASA prepares to demonstrate its advanced drone traffic management system, which it claims offers safe and effective control of autonomous aircraft in urban areas.
Emerging Tech

Kickstarter campaign aims to help make 3D-printed space habitats for Mars

Mars X-House is an ambitious project that's intended to create a prototype future Mars habitat using 3D printing. And, thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign, you can be a part of it.
Emerging Tech

Engineer turns his old Apple lle into an wheeled robot, and even gives it a sword

How do you give new life to a 30-year-old computer? Software engineer Mike Kohn found a way by transforming his old Apple IIe into a wheeled robot. Check it out in all its 1980s glory.
Emerging Tech

Virgin Galactic completes another test flight, this time with a passenger

Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses rode the company's spacecraft as a passenger on Friday, a key milestone toward commercial availability of the flights later this year. Moses rode along to test "cabin design elements."
Emerging Tech

Controversial CRISPR baby experiment may have resulted in brain enhancements

China’s CRISPR baby saga continues to rage on. Scientists have now expressed concerns that the procedure may have also resulted in changes in the babies’ brains affecting cognition.