Chameleons Inspire a Revolution in 3D-Printing Tech

Chameleons are fascinating creatures that can change their skin color in a matter of seconds. This ability is not only useful for camouflage, but also for communication and thermoregulation. They can adjust their color to match their mood, their environment, or even their social status. Now, researchers have drawn inspiration from these lizards to develop a new 3D-printing technology that can produce dynamic, multicolor objects using just one type of ink.

How does it work?

The researchers, led by a team from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, used a special kind of polymer called bottlebrush block copolymer (BBCP) as the ink material. BBCPs have a unique structure that consists of a linear backbone with many side chains attached to it. These side chains can interact with each other and form ordered structures at the nanoscale level. These structures can reflect different wavelengths of light, creating structural colors. These colors are different from traditional colors that come from chemical pigments or dyes that absorb light.

By using UV-assisted direct-ink-write 3D printing and cross-linkable BBCP chemistry, the researchers were able to dynamically control the assembly kinetics of the BBCPs, locking in desired colors as they printed. By changing the strength of UV light while printing, they could modulate the structural color on the fly to produce color gradients not possible before. For example, they could print an object that changes from blue to green to yellow along its length.

What are the benefits?

The new 3D-printing technology has several advantages over conventional methods. First, it is more sustainable, as it uses only one type of ink material that does not require any additional processing or additives. This reduces the environmental impact and the cost of 3D printing. Second, it is more versatile, as it can produce a wide range of colors across the visible spectrum using only one type of ink material. This allows for more creativity and customization in 3D printing. Third, it is more dynamic, as it can create smooth color transitions and patterns that mimic natural systems. This can enhance the aesthetic and functional value of 3D-printed objects.

The researchers hope that their technique can open up new possibilities for 3D-printing applications in various fields, such as art, design, education, medicine, and security. For example, they envision creating 3D-printed objects that can change color in response to external stimuli, such as temperature, humidity, or light. This could enable novel functionalities and interactions with 3D-printed objects.

Where can I learn more?

The details of the team’s research were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can also watch a video demonstration of their technique here. If you want to learn more about chameleons and their color-changing abilities, you can check out this article here.

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