Tag Archives: 3d printer

Watch a 3D printer produce an entire boat

Using a massive 3D printer, the University of Maine built the world’s largest 3D-printed boat. Here it is — it took more than three and a half days, but you can see it in half a minute.

The team set three world records in the process: world’s largest 3D printer, largest solid 3D-printed object, and largest 3D-printed boat. But the researchers didn’t build the boat for quirks and records — they built it to see if wood and plastic could work together for 3D printing.

If wood can be integrated into large-scale 3D printing, it could serve as a possible replacement for metal, becoming a more sustainable alternative. Normally, when building large things, you want metal because it’s so strong and rigid. But biobased materials like wood could offer similar parameters at a fraction of a cost.

“Maine is the most forested state in the nation, and now we have a 3D printer big enough to make use of this bountiful resource,” said Maine Senator Angus King, who attended the boat’s unveiling.

The 25-foot patrol boat is now tested with a wind machine and wave basin at an offshore facility, and if the approach is confirmed, it could mark a turning point for 3D-printed materials.

The key element that allows traditional 3D-printing polymers to “play nice” with wood is something called cellulose nanofibers, or CNF. CNF consists of tiny fibers that can be integrated with thermoplastic to make the resulting material much stronger. Cellulose nanofiber is lightweight, durable, and has thermal expansion parameters on par with glass. It’s also sustainable and has a low environmental impact. It’s not surprising that teams are looking to incorporate it.

“The UMaine Composites Center received $500,000 from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to form a technology cluster to help Maine boatbuilders explore how large-scale 3D printing using economical, wood-filled plastics can provide the industry with a competitive advantage,” says a UMaine news release. “The cluster brings together the expertise of UMaine researchers and marine industry leaders to further develop and commercialize 3D printing to benefit boatbuilders in the state. By 3D printing plastics with 50% wood, boat molds and parts can be produced much faster and are more economical than today’s traditional methods.”

This is also a stepping stone for other, even more ambitious projects. 3D printing is entering a golden stage, and finding ways to incorporate sustainable materials with the desired properties into larger designs is already a major field of research. The University of Maine recently secured $2.8 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a more eco-friendly method of 3D printing wind turbine blade molds, using the same printing system.  

Meet the future of construction: MIT prototype 3-D prints entire building

In little more than half a day, an innovative 3-D printing machine built an igloo-shaped building half the size of the US Capitol dome. It did so all by itself with minimal human oversight, not too different from how you’d hit ‘print’ in your living room to create objects with a hobbyist 3-D printer. This remarkable demonstration of force could be truly transformational  — and not just because it could revolutionize how we erect constructions here on Earth but on other planets as well. It’s likely that any extraterrestrial manned colony will use a similar method to build a base.

Just hit ‘print’

The machine is just fresh out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) materials science and design focused Mediated Matter lab in Cambridge. It consists of a tracked vehicle equipped with a very large industrial robot arm that has another smaller, precision-motion robot arm attached to its end. Sort of like Alien mouths.

The highly flexible and precise arm can then be used to direct any conventional (or unconventional for that matter) nozzle typically used in construction works such as pouring concrete or spraying insulating materials. Called the Digital Construction Platform (DCP), the prototype has a combined reach of 10 meters and also carries solar panels and batteries so it can be deployed anywhere.

Most 3-D printers, be them for printing plastic, metal, glass or even human cells, involves a closed, fixed structure that supports the nozzle. Typically, you can’t print objects bigger than the printer’s enclosure itself — but that’s not the case with MIT’s machine. Because it’s free moving, any object of any size can be printed this way.

To prove their prototype, the MIT researchers built the basic structure of the walls of a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome. It took only 14 hours of printing.

The prototype built the basic structure of a huge dome. Credit: Steven Keating.

Steven Keating, the MIT mechanical engineer who led the project, says 3-D printing buildings is cheaper, faster, and safer than manual construction. For instance, ground pillars could be placed in optimal locations only, the walls could have a varying thickness depending on its orientation, and geometrical intricacy is no longer a problem. A lot of money can also be saved, not only on manual labor but also on materials since the precision machine can effortlessly vary the density of the material being poured or mix different materials as it goes along.

The DCP can change its printing head to accommodate any material be it glass, ice, gravel or even hay. Credit: MIT.

The DCP can change its printing head to accommodate any material be it glass, ice, gravel or even hay. Credit: MIT.

“So to me it’s not merely a printer,” says Neri Oxman, group director and associate professor of media arts and sciences, “but an entirely new way of thinking about making, that facilitates a paradigm shift in the area of digital fabrication, but also for architectural design. … Our system points to a future vision of digital construction that enables new possibilities on our planet and beyond.”

It’s worth mentioning that the DCP is intended to be self-sufficient, aligned with Keating’s vision of designing buildings without parts. For instance, DCP has a scoop that can both prepare the building’s surface and acquire local material such as dirt for the construction itself. Coupled with the solar panels feature, the all-electric machine could be deployed to good effect in developing countries or very remote regions. Perhaps, DCP could shine brightly in the remotest of places — the moon or Mars. DCP could be launched on Mars, then build habitat and research domes all by itself using locally sourced materials.

“In the future, to have something totally autonomous, that you could send to the moon or Mars or Antarctica, and it would just go out and make these buildings for years,” said Keating, who led the development of the system as his doctoral thesis work.

Keating says he’s already getting calls from big people interested to hear more about the project. NASA, Google, and the U.S. military are among those interested. Keep your eyes out for the DCP — this might be the future!

DCP was described in the Science Robotics journal.

3d printed pretzel

Novel technique can 3-D print intricate glass objects like a pretzel

German researchers have 3D-printed glass objects with very intricate shapes. What makes their novel technique interesting is that they started from common, commercially available 3-D printers. Complex lenses, filters, or even aesthetically pleasing ornaments are some of the applications.

3-D printing glass: now possible

3d printed pretzel

Credit: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

“Glass is one of the oldest materials known to mankind,” says study co-author Bastian Rapp of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, “and it has been pretty much ignored in the 3D printing revolution of the 21st century.”

Rapp and colleagues set out to show just how trivial 3D printing glass can really be. Some of the objects that the researchers at  Karlsruhe Institute of Technology 3-D printed include a honeycomb structure, a castle or an adorably-looking pretzel, all of which are fairly complicated to make out of glass.

3d printed castle

Credit: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

The technique relies on using a “liquid glass” extruder material instead of the various kinds of polymers employed by commercial 3-D printers hobbyists know and love. The material is a nanocomposite of glass nanoparticles suspended in a prepolymer. When light is shone on the glass particle-containing resin, it hardens. The final step involves moving the printed object into an oven where the prepolymer is burned off and glass nanoparticles melt, ultimately fusing into a familiar glass structure.

The scale and finesse of the printed objects depend only on the printer itself, the German researchers claim in their paper published in Nature. This means the same technique could be used to make anything from tiny lenses for cameras or microscopes to large facades on skyscrapers. Previously, in 2015, MIT researchers printed transparent glass objects by heating the precursor extruder material up to about 1,037 degrees Celsius (1,900 degrees Fahrenheit), but the approach required a custom-built 3-D printer.

The 3-D printed glass objects can withstand temperatures as high as 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit. Credit: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

The 3-D printed glass objects can withstand temperatures as high as 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit. Credit: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

3D-printers are far more versatile than they were only a decade ago. Besides various plastics, you can now 3-D print objects out of metal, ceramics or even biological cells. Is there anything that we can’t print nowadays?

“This work widens the choice of materials for 3D printing, enabling the creation of arbitrary macro- and microstructures in fused silica glass for many applications in both industry and academia,” the researchers conclude.



Want to save a lot of money around the house? Buy a 3D Printer

A new study has found that regular consumers who invest in a home 3D Printer can not only get their money back by printing household items — but they can also make a 1000% return on investment over five years.

Michigan Tech researchers assembled 26 items printed with the Lulzbot Mini, including parts for a Christmas tree stand, a juicer, tool holders, a soap dish, a bathroom wine glass holder, a camera lens holder, parts of a coin holder, and a shaving brush stand.
Credit: Michigan Tech, Sarah Bird

If you’d tell a businessman that he can make an investment and get his money back in 6 months, his eyes would pop. If you’d say that he can make ten times more in five years, he’d probably ask you where to sign. Yet average Americans can make that decision right now by buying a 3D printer.

The advent of 3D printers has taken the world by storm, and what was just a few years ago a futuristic “someday” technology is now a stable of several industries. You can 3D print musical instruments, electronics,  … pretty much anything you can imagine. But you don’t have to go crazy with 3D printing, you can also print regular day-to-day use objects. In a new study, Michigan Technological University Associate Professor Joshua Pearce set out to determine just how practical that really is. After all, you need to buy the 3D printer and supplies, so it’s quite an investment.

In a new study, Michigan Technological University Associate Professor Joshua Pearce set out to determine just how practical that really is. After all, you need to buy the 3D printer and supplies, so it’s quite an investment.

Well, he found that the investment pays off. He also wanted to make sure that this was the case for users who are not tech-savvy, so he worked with Emily Petersen, an undergraduate student majoring in materials science and engineering, to use a 3-D printer fresh out of the box. She had no experienced whatsoever with the 3D printer.

“I’d never been up close and personal with a 3-D printer before,” Petersen says. “And the few printers I had seen were industrial ones. I thought learning to operate the printer was going to take me forever, but I was relieved when it turned out to be so easy.”

The Lulzbot mini.

They purchased a device called a Lulzbot Mini — a funny name, but quite a versatile machine. It can print in high resolution, works with most operating systems, and supports open-source hardware and software. This is quite important, as you don’t really want to spend a lot of money on software and designs. There are literally millions of free 3D printing designs readily available on the web.

They focused on 26 random objects, including reasonably popular things such as tool holders, snowboard binder clips, and shower heads. They monitored each item’s cost in terms of raw materials, energy consumption, and print time to determine its overall cost. They then compared it to the shelf price of similar objects, on a per-item basis. For all products, they chose both a high-end and a low-end price which they compared with the object they’d printed themselves. In both cases, the savings were huge. The low-cost comparisons yielded 93 percent savings, while the high-cost ones saved a whopping 98.65 percent on average. The entire process was as simple as ‘see the design you like and click print’, and no complicated things were printed.

“With the low-cost estimates, the printer pays for itself in three years and all the costs associated with printing — such as the price of plastic and electricity — are not only earned back, but provide a 25 percent return on investment. After five years, it’s more than 100 percent,” Pearce says. “With the high-cost estimates, the printer pays for itself within six months. And after five years, you’ve not only recouped all the costs associated with printing, you’ve saved more than $12,000.”

The analysis was carried on for a six-month process, estimating that a family would reasonably print an item per week. Their analysis also considered a five-year lifespan for the 3D printing machine, which is realistic — and perhaps even a bit pessimistic. Because the Lulzbot Mini is open source, all the files to upgrade and fix the machine are available for free online. Even the bits which are most likely to break can just be 3D printed with your own machine.

“I’m an engineering student,” Petersen says, “but I was new to this type of hands-on troubleshooting. The fact that I was able to troubleshoot any issues I had and produce 26 items relatively easily is a testament to how accessible this technology is to the average American consumer.”

This shows just how much 3D printing has developed as a technology, and how it can revolutionize our very lives. Just imagine, aside from printing stuff you need around the house, you can get custom gifts for your friends and family, build something whenever you need instead of buying it, and overall have an awesome piece of technology in your house — while saving hundreds of dollars a year. The future really is here.

Journal Reference: Emily Petersen, Joshua Pearce. Emergence of Home Manufacturing in the Developed World: Return on Investment for Open-Source 3-D Printers. Technologies, 2017; 5 (1): 7 DOI: 10.3390/technologies5010007

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This bioprinter can print human skin which could be transplanted in burn victims or make animal testing obsolete

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Spanish researchers have built a 3D bioprinter that creates human skin, one layer at a time. The primary application is cosmetics and drug testing, finally bringing an end to animal testing. If tests deem it biocompatible, the printed skin could also prove very useful as a replacement for burned victims, for instance.

The prototype printer was specially designed to layer cells such that the end product mimics the human skin as closely as possible. The printed skin features an external layer for protection (the epidermis), a thick layer in the middle that acts as the dermis, and finally another layer made of fibroblast cells. The latter layer produces collagen, the main structural protein found in skin and hair which gives skin its elasticity and mechanical strength.

“Knowing how to mix the biological components, in what conditions to work with them so that the cells don’t deteriorate, and how to correctly deposit the product is critical to the system,” said researcher Juan Francisco del Cañizo of the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón and Universidad Complutense de Madrid




The process can be tailored for two types of products: allogeneic (genetically dissimilar, i.e. from another person) and autologous (obtained from the same individual) skin. Allogeneic skin can be sourced from any stock of cells and can be deployed at a wide scale. Autologous skin is made on a case by case basis because the cells to be printed are obtained from the patient.

“We use only human cells and components to produce skin that is bioactive and can generate its own human collagen, thereby avoiding the use of the animal collagen that is found in other methods,” the researchers note

“This method of bioprinting allows skin to be generated in a standardized, automated way, and the process is less expensive than manual production,” said Alfredo Brisac, the CEO of BioDan Group, a company that wants to bring this method to the market.

The full details of the research have been published in the journal Biofabrication.

This SciFi looking robot cube was fitted with a 3-D printed skin which absorbs most of the energy the robot would have usually transferred to the ground. Credit: MIT

Programmable 3-D printed soft materials helps robots and drone make a soft landing

This SciFi looking robot cube was fitted with a 3-D printed skin which absorbs most of the energy the robot would have usually transferred to the ground. Credit: MIT

This SciFi looking robot cube was fitted with a 3-D printed skin which absorbs most of the energy the robot would have usually transferred to the ground. Credit: MIT

A team from MIT made headlines after it showed it’s possible to use a 3-D printer to make programmable materials of various stiffness on the fly. The printer was capable of layering different types of materials together, like liquids and solids, so the resulting material is tailored with laser precision to meet certain needs.

For instance, robots can be made sturdier, as well as delivery drones which Amazon and Google are currently experimenting with. However, everything from shoes to helmets to car bumpers can be made using this technique freeing independent producers from having to rely on suppliers’ standard items that sometimes can be too soft or too stiff — but never exactly like we want them.

Genuine custom work

Rubber and plastic are the most used damper materials. These are commonly known as “viscoelastics” due to their properties which share qualities of both liquids and solids.

There are many perks to viscoelastic materials. They’re cheap, compact and readily available but commercially available options come in fixed shapes, sizes, and material properties. Since 3-D printing has become mainstream, we can now easily create almost any object we want, even those with complicated geometries. The material properties have been harder to customize, though — not as easily as drawing and extruding objects in a software, at least.

“It’s hard to customize soft objects using existing fabrication methods, since you need to do injection moulding or some other industrial process,” says Jeffrey Lipton, a post-doc at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory(CSAIL). “3-D printing opens up more possibilities and lets us ask the question, ‘can we make things we couldn’t make before?”

The team led by CSAIL Director Daniela Rus used a standard 3D extrusion printer. However, they used a special material called TangoBlack+, which emulates rubber’s solid/liquid properties. Also important was the special technique developed at MIT which is related to previous work involving the ejection of droplets of different material layer-by-layer and then using UV light to solidify the non-liquids.

The robot’s ‘skin’ uses only 1/250 the amount of energy it transfers to the ground.

To demonstrate their work, Rus and colleagues designed and assembled a cube-shaped robot with a rigid body, which was enveloped in a ‘soft skin’ 3-D printed with the new technique. Power by batteries, the tiny bot uses four layers of looped metal strip, serving as a spring to propel the contraption.

With the help of the 3-D printed skin, the bot landed four times more precisely, prompting the researchers to suggest such a shock-absorber might become very useful for the future’s home delivery drones.

“That reduction makes all the difference for preventing a rotor from breaking off of a drone or a sensor from cracking when it hits the floor,” says Rus, who oversaw the project and co-wrote a related paper. “These materials allow us to 3-D print robots with visco-elastic properties that can be inputted by the user at print-time as part of the fabrication process.”

“Being able to program different regions of an object has important implications for things like helmets,” says Robert MacCurdy, another post-doc from Rus’ lab. “You could have certain parts made of materials that are comfortable for your head to rest on, and other shock-absorbing materials for the sections that are most likely to be impacted in a collision.”

Pamela Shavaun Scott and a life-sized 3D printed version of her skull. Her tumour rests right about where her right index finger is. Image: Makezine

Man 3-D prints his wife’s tumor and saves her life

ZME Science has reported extensively on how 3-D printing is being implemented in the medical sector with some fantastic results. Yet, the real revolutionary thing about 3D printing – whether used for product prototyping, printing prostheses or spare parts on the International Space Station – is that anyone can use it.

Such is the story of Michael Balzer who made a 3D model of his wive’s skull, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor, printed it, then sent it to renowned surgeons all over the country. Eventually, a doctor used the skull to prepare for a delicate, novel operation and removed the woman’s tumor with minimal invasion, as opposed to other methods. Had it not been for Balzer’s creative thinking, his wife would’ve likely gone blind in one eye, if not lost her life.

Eventually, a doctor used the skull to prepare for a delicate, novel operation and removed the woman’s tumor with minimal invasion, as opposed to other methods. Had it not been for Balzer’s creative thinking, his wife would’ve likely gone blind in one eye, if not lost her life.

Medicine in the hands of common people

Pamela Shavaun Scott and a life-sized 3D printed version of her skull. Her tumour rests right about where her right index finger is. Image: Makezine

Pamela Shavaun Scott and a life-sized 3D printed version of her skull. Her tumor rests right about where her right index finger is. Image: Makezine

Balzer and his wife, Pamela Shavaun Scott, are no strangers to health problems. Balzer,  a former Air Force technical instructor and software engineer, lost his job after struggling with a long illness and Scott had her thyroid removed only a couple months prior to discovering the tumor.

It was the thyroid surgery that taught the couple how to approach their hardest moment together. Typically, the thyroid is removed by making a big cut in the throat which leaves a big and unaesthetic scar, followed by a long period of recovery. With proper diligence and research, the couple found doctors who used a novel procedure. They traveled from California to the Center for Robotic Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where a robotic arm carefully made minimal amounts of sharp cuts, otherwise impossible to make by a shaky human hand. This taught them the value of making use of the latest, cutting-edge technology out there and not going for the very first recommendation.

Yet, only a couple of months after the surgery Scott reported dreadful headaches. Fearing complications following the thyroid surgery, Balzer urged his wife to have an MRI scan- – she submitted. Disaster. Doctors found  a three-centimeter tumor lodged behind her left eye. The two were heart struck, but the doctors who made the consultation didn’t share their worry. They reported that such tumors were common among women and recommended Scott should have it checked again in a year. Balzer wasn’t convinced, and sought a second opinion – quite a few actually. He e-mailed the MRI scans to doctors around the country, who almost unanimously agreed the women should immediately schedule for surgery.

A few months later, Scott had another MRI. This time, the doctors’ reaction was different: they were appalled by what seemed an accelerated tumor growth, indicating a far more severe condition than initially diagnosed. However, when Balzer — a seasoned 3D designer — rendered his wive’s DICOM files (the standard digital format for medical imaging data) atop previous MRIs, he  found that the tumor hadn’t grown. The radiologist was just looking at it from another angle and it appeared bigger.

 “I thought, ‘why don’t we take it to the next level?’” Balzer says for Makerzine. “Let’s see what kind of tools are available so that I can take the DICOMs, which are 2D slices, and convert them into a 3D model.”

MRI scans stacked to reveal how large the tumour is. Credit: Makerzine

MRI scans stacked to reveal how large the tumor actually is. Credit: Makerzine


He then took the model and printed it to have a better idea of kind of treatment they could seek. Scott’s tumor, known as meningioma, sits somewhere beneath the brain. So to reach it and remove it, doctors have to saw the skull, literally uproot the brain, reach out under it and eject the tumor. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

Following such an operation, Scott would have stood at a considerable risk of losing her smell, taste or even sight, since nerves can easily become loose.

Desperate, Blazer send the 3D model to doctors across the country, looking for some alternative treatment. He was in luck, he found a surgeon in the same Pittsburgh research center where Scott had her thyroid removed. A neurosurgeon there agreed to consider a minimally invasive operation in which he would access the tumor through Scott’s left eyelid and remove it using a micro drill.

Blazer sent the doctor a few full-sized models of his wife’s skull, which the team there used it to practice and plan the procedure. Scott had the tumor removed at UPMC in May 2014 through a small opening above her left eye. Doctors noticed that the tumor had begun to entangle her optical nerve and had she waited more than six months for the surgery, she most certainly would have gone blind. Following the eight-hour long procedure, 95% of the tumor was extracted and no visible marks were left visible. It was a sound victory – one that goes beyond the husband and wife’s life story.

Blazer’s creative thinking was made famous in medical circles throughout the country. Unwittingly, he layered the groundwork for the Medical Innovation Lab in Austin, Texas — a lab that will use 3D printed models  to help plan procedures and to explain diagnoses to patients.

“What you can now do through 3D printing is like what you’re able to do in the software world: Rapid iteration, fail fast, get something to market quickly,” says Dr. Michael Patton, CEO of the Lab, which launched in October 2014 . “You can print the prototypes, and then you can print out model organs on which to test the products. You can potentially obviate the need for some animal studies, and you can do this proof of concept before extensive patient trials are conducted.”

Here’s how to print your own medical features, be it a skull, bone or even organs if you’ve had an MRI or CT scan.

  • Ask your doctor for the DICOM files
  • Download 3D slicer and use the Region Growing tool to segment the image
  • Extract the 3D mesh of the surface and save as STL
  • Use ParaView to simplify the mesh
  • Print .
printed clock

Amazing Custom Clock built using CNC, laser cutting and 3D printing – all using one hybrid printer

printed clock

This beauty was designed, crafted and assembled by Matt Olczyk. The custom-made clock looks like a cross between old pendulum antiques and modern, minimalist designs. All the parts were custom-made in Olczyk’s shop using CNC milling, laser cutting and 3D-printing. The real innovation, however, lied in the fat that all of these operations were performed by one single machine – the ZMorph Hybrid 3D printer.

ZME Science has written extensively on 3D printing, touting its various benefits. Now that they’ve become so cheap (in the hundreds of dollars range), a lot of people have jumped in and help initiate a new manufacturing revolution: one founded in millions of garages across the world.

mechanical clock

Yet, 3D printing isn’t a fix it all technology. It works great for cheap, small to medium-sized parts, and has the added advantage that you can use it to craft complex shapes, all in one piece. Sometimes, however, milling a part is better if you’re looking for something sturdier.

”Sometimes 3D printing is not enough. Additive manufacturing disrupted the scene, but in a vast number of cases, subtractive methods are still the way to go. Like all technologies, 3D printing has its limitations, stemming from the very foundation of how 3D printing works.For some designers and engineers this technology still falls short of results of other rapid prototyping or fabrication methods they are used to, naming injection molding, or CNC milling as some examples. And the arguments are strong – limited materials, hence limited mechanical and aesthetical properties and in some cases even cost efficiency of production. And when 3D printing is not enough, the obvious choice is to reach for a different technology,” ZMorph said in a statement.

For his clock, Olczyk used only the ZMorph Hybrid 3D printer to perform multiple machine operations. He just swapped the tool heads to perform various operations.

Big gears were made using CNC milling. Smaller gears and other objects were 3D printed from plastic. Finally, the laser cutter head was used to  cut the clock’s numbers from black adhesive foil. The whole process can be seen below.


This 3D printed system can turn your iPhone in a 1,000x microscope


Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, also referred to as the “father of microbiology”, was the first scientist to produce a truly functioning microscope, improving on earlier primitive designs. His efforts allowed him to observe for the first time a single celled organism, almost 300 years ago. Microscopes have gone a long way since, of course, but one thing for sure: after all this time, microscopes are still bulky and extremely difficult to use in the field. Physicists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have set to change this. Using 3D printed materials and a simple glass bead, they’ve created a magnifying system that works with your smartphone’s or tablet’s built-in camera to magnify matter 100x, 350x or 1,000x. The whole system costs only 1$ to manufacture.

“We believe it can fill a need for professional first responders, and also for teachers and students in the classroom, health workers and anyone who just wants an inexpensive microscope readily available,” said Rebecca Erikson, an applied physicist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.


Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has tried to make a microscope for smartphones. This solution, however is elegant, cheap and available to anyone to make. You don’t have to buy it – just download the design which is up for free on the web and print the system at home or at a friend who owns a 3D printer. So, for less than one dollar worth of materials, you can print your very own microscope you can the use to study things like parasites in blood and water-contaminating microorganisms like protozoa (at 350x) or objects as small as tiny pathogens (at 1000x).

While citizen scientists can learn a lot by using the magnifying system, the PNNL scientists designed it for professionals working in the field in mind to enhance response time. A technician or specialist could take a quick snapshot of a sample, send it to the lab for expertise via email and get a response back while still being at the scene.


“An inexpensive, yet powerful microscope in the field could be used to quickly determine whether the material is a threat or a hoax,” Erikson said. “Combine the microscope with the picture sharing capability of a smartphone and now practically anyone can evaluate a sample at the source and have a trained microbiologist located in a lab elsewhere interpret the results within minutes.”

molecule printer

This 3D printer for small molecules might change organic chemistry forever

At his lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Martin Burke laid the foundation for what he simply calls “The Machine” – an automated small molecule synthesizer that’s set to change the way chemists assemble chemicals forever. It’s like a 3D printer, only for molecules. Starting with some basic chemicals, which Burke and colleagues separate into blocks, the machine assembles all sorts of molecules in a modular fashion, like pinning Lego bricks. Hours and hours of toiling in the lab might now be dedicated to more important business, and molecules yet to be synthesized can now be attempted. These small molecules hold tremendous potential in medicine, but technology is also sure to exploit the machine – anything from LEDs to solar cells.

The machine that builds molecules

molecule printer

Credit: Burke, Science

Small molecules and polymers are common components in medicine, food, cosmetics, pesticides, narcotics and research reagents. They can also be found in the human body and in the environment.Small, chemically manufactured molecules (or SMOLs for short) are the classic active substances and still make up over 90 percent of the drugs on the market today. One example is acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), aspirin’s active ingredient with a molecular weight of about 180 g/mol. These small molecules can be processed into easily ingestible tablets or capsules. If the tablet dissolves in the gastrointestinal tract, the dissolved active substance is absorbed into the bloodstream via the intestinal wall. From there, the small molecules can reach almost any desired destination in the body because of their tiny size. Their small structure and chemical composition often also helps them to easily penetrate cell membranes.

molecular printer

Credit: Burke, Science

At the same time, these small small molecules are also very difficult to synthesize. You need a lot of time, going from reaction to reaction which often can involve hundreds of steps and, usually, highly trained personnel is required. The Machine is different. It does all the dirty work for you, providing it has the process uploaded in its software, and almost anyone can do it – even chemistry neophytes.

“A lot of great medicines have not been discovered yet because of this synthesis bottleneck,” he says. With his new technology, Burke aims to change that. “The vision is that anybody could go to a website, pick the building blocks they want, instruct their assembly through the web, and the small molecules would get synthesized and shipped,” Burke says. “We’re not there yet, but we now have an actionable roadmap toward on-demand small-molecule synthesis for non-specialists.”

Nature is very good at building small molecules, but so far chemists’ efforts aimed at mimicking these processes have proven slow or, more often than not, impossible with current tech. Plants, animals, and microbes manufacture many small molecules with protein-like functions, and with some precise chemical modifications. The machine could assemble these sort of small molecules without the need for proteins.

molecular printer

Credit: Burke, Science

First the machine breaks down very complex molecules into their basic chemical building blocks then induces a chemical reaction and washes away the reaction’s byproducts—slowly building each molecule from the ground up. Using this process the machine can utilize over 200 different building blocks along with thousands of other molecules to ‘print’ billions of different organic compounds, many of which make up 14 classes of small molecules, including the ratanhine molecule family.

“Doing real atomistic modifications to transform nature’s starting points into actual medicines is really, really challenging. The slow step in most cases in the synthesis. As a result, many natural products don’t get worked on in any practical way.”

“Nature makes most small molecules the same way,” Burke says. “There are a small number of building blocks that are coupled together over and over again, using the same kind of chemistry in an iterative fashion.” That means small molecules are inherently modular. So when Burke’s team analyzed the chemical structures of thousands of different natural products, patterns emerged. “There are building blocks that appear over and over again, and we’ve been able to dissect out the building blocks that are most common,” he says.

Burke has now founded a company called Revolution Medicines to further scale his project and receive funding. The company already is working to improve upon an anti-fungal compound known as Amphotericin B, which is found in nature and used to treat patients with life-threatening fungal infections. Check out this awesome interview with Dr. Burke below.

“Perhaps most exciting, this work has opened up an actionable road map to a general and automated way to make most small molecules,” stated Burke. “If that goal can be realized, it will help shift the bottleneck from synthesis to function and bring the power of making small molecules to nonspecialists….A 3D printer for molecules could allow us to harness all the creativity, innovation, and outside-the-box thinking that comes when non-experts start to use technology that used to only be in the hands of a select few.”

The molecules the Illinois team synthesized, as well as the machine itself, were described in a paper published in Science.

The video game-esque Exo prosthetic developed by New York based designer William Root. Credit: William Root

Meet the slickest, meanest 3-D prosthetis yet

The video game-esque Exo prosthetic developed by New York based designer William Root. Credit: William Root

The video game-esque Exo prosthetic developed by New York based designer William Root. Credit: William Root

Prosthetic limbs can cost tens of thousands of dollars onward, but thanks to 3-D printing many people can now recover part of their missing limbs for a fraction of the cost. Previously, we reported how a $42,000 prosthetic hand was replaced by 3D printed counterpart worth $50. Another prosthetic hand costs $10. Both models are open source and free to print by anyone at home. But a prosthesis shouldn’t necessarily be solely pragmatic, and  William Root, a recent graduate from the Pratt Institute in New York City, cared to demonstrate an alternate route. By combing biomechatronics and aesthetics, Root developed a prototype that’s a custom fit for each wearer, uses a minimal amount of top class materials and assures high mobility, all while looking as fit it came off a SciFi movie.

The model can be 3-D printed with  titanium or steel, making it lightweight and durable. Image: William Root

The model can be 3-D printed with titanium or steel, making it lightweight and durable. Image: William Root

“In my research it became clear to me that there is a lot wrong with how designers typically try to approach a prosthetic limb and how the industry goes about making prostheses,” says Root. “Prostheses are not aesthetically pleasing, extremely expensive, and difficult to produce.”

MIT’s FitSocket technology helps build prosthetics that suit a patient’s height, weight, and muscle mass. Illustration: MIT Mechatronics Lab

MIT’s FitSocket technology helps build prosthetics that suit a patient’s height, weight, and muscle mass. Illustration: MIT Mechatronics Lab

The road to building the Exo prosthetic first starts with modeling the wearer’s anatomy. A device developed at  MIT’s Biomechatronics lab called FitSocket uses an array of pressure sensors displaced in a circular pattern to determine the stiffness and softness of the remaining tissue. Using this pressure data, a 3D model with a near-perfect fit socket is made for maximum comfort and stability. The same data is then used to extrapolate a 3-D model of the actual prosthetic based on how the rest of the leg should have looked like. Stress analysis tools turn the model into fine meshes and carves the model until it “has the maximum strength for the least amount of material with the added benefit of looking really slick,” says Root.

The FitSocket. Image: William Root

The FitSocket. Image: William Root

Ultimately, the model is printed from sintered titanium powder or high-strength plastic. Durability, comfort and aesthetics.

“Prosthetic limbs are stigmatized because they are so inhuman; most aftermarket companies that try to address this problem attempt to create a realistic-looking leg, which crosses into the uncanny valley,” says Root.

“With prostheses you are essentially designing a person, their body already dictates the form,” he says. “Each leg needs to be as unique as its owner.”



Root says that the 3-D printed elements of his leg cost just $1,800, however the knee and ankle joints cost extra since these are high specialized components. According to Wired, Exo does not yet support a wearer’s full weight, but is in the process of gaining an approval from the FDA based on future, refined models. To pass the FDA strict guidelines, the Exo might both end up looking different and more expensive. Personally, I’m really excited about it and looking forward to seeing it work in the real world.

“With the Exo, the cost of the limb would be reduced almost to just the cost of printing it,” says Root. “As 3-D printing technology advances and becomes more mainstream those costs have nowhere to go but down.”


3D printer used to build 10 homes in one day in China


Photo: Winsun New Materials

Say what you will, but the Chinese are clearly the fastest builders in the world, though sometimes quick haste makes to waste. A while ago, I wrote about how a Chinese company wants to build the tallest skyscraper in the world in just 90 days. Really crazy stuff, but now another Chinese company, with many years of experience working with 3D printers, plan to revolutionize the way fast constructions are being made. To demonstrate their concept, the Suzhou-based construction materials firm Winsun built 10 homes, albeit modest looking, in only a day using a massive, specially design 3D printer.

Photon: Winsun New Materials

Photon: Winsun New Materials

Instead of a smooth polymer like in the case of conventional 3D printers used to manufacture small parts and such, the huge printer employed by the Chinese company uses a mix made out of recycled construction waste and cement. The head of the printer lays out a structure comprised of diagonal beams, in two layers with plenty of air gap to ensure sound proofing and heat insulation. These prefabricated walls are then transported to the site of construction and quickly assembled. Each of the 10 homes part of the demonstration requires little man power to assemble it and costs around $4,800.

As China rapidly urbanizes, the need for cheap and fast to build homes is acute. Solutions such as this seem to fair well in China, and the fact that it uses recycled materials comes at a plus. The video below details the production of these 3D printed prefabs.

A computer model of the Contour Crafting Robotic Construction System. Basically, huge 3-D printers and tools would automatically build civil structures based on input CAD/CAM designs. Source: www.contourcrafting.org

3-D printing an entire house in less than 20 hours – is this the future?

A computer model of the Contour Crafting Robotic Construction System. Basically, huge 3-D printers and tools would automatically build civil structures based on input CAD/CAM designs. Source: www.contourcrafting.org

A computer model of the Contour Crafting Robotic Construction System. Basically, huge 3-D printers and tools would automatically build civil structures based on input CAD/CAM designs. Source: www.contourcrafting.org

We haven’t actually shied away from praising the marvels of 3D printing. We’ve told you all about printing fossils, medical implants,  even skin, bones, bacteria or organs! Of course, these are some eccentric uses since, after all, 3-D printing was designed for manufacturing in mind. It’s easy imagine a not so distant future where most goods are 3-D printed, even by home users themselves, but Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC),  has something different in mind. He wants to 3-D print entire homes, as in actual houses.

Khoshnevis and colleagues are working on a prototype for a machine called ‘Contour Crafting’. They’ve already demonstrated that it’s possible to print an entire 2,500 sqft house in  a whooping 20 hours. We’re not talking of course about a plastic house. Scientists have been using 3-D printers to actually print stem cells, for instance. Printing concrete layer by layer is damn easy using this system, and it’s all automated based on CAD designs.

“Contour Crafting is a fabrication process by which large-scale parts can be fabricated quickly in a layer-by-layer fashion. The chief advantages of the Contour Crafting process over existing technologies are the superior surface finish that is realized and the greatly enhanced speed of fabrication. The success of the technology stems from the automated use of age-old tools normally wielded by hand, combined with conventional robotics and an innovative approach to building three-dimensional objects that allows rapid fabrication times. Actual scale civil structures such as houses may be built by CC. Contour Crafting has been under development under support from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.”

[ALSO READ] First fully printed 3-D house looks amazing

Sure, a Chinese engineering team might be able to pull this off even faster and maybe even cheaper, but the implications are pretty huge to me at least. It could revolutionize the way civil engineering is made just a decade from now and offers the starting point for the construction of structures on the moon and Mars, as well as  fine arts on the creation of large ceramic sculptures.

To find out more, I invite you all to check out Khoshnevis’ TED talk, embedded right below.

3-d printed plastic hand

Dad 3-D prints prosthetic hand for his son. Costs only $10

3-d printed plastic hand

On ZME Science we’ve showcased on more than one occasion the wonders of 3-D printing, and how this remarkable piece of technology is going to change a lot of things in the future, especially small scale manufacturing. It’s not just manufacturing it’s changing, it’s people’s lives too. For instance, we reported how 3D printers are becoming widely used in medicine from printing an ear, to an implantable skull, to metal jaws.

The great strengths of 3-D printing lie in two major characteristics: extreme high-precision and very lost cost of manufacturing. Basically the technology that just 20 years ago was reserved to multi-million dollar companies and labs is now available to the general public for just a few thousand bucks. Seriously, expect these things to become as easy to buy as drill machines in just 5 years. Here’s a great example of citizen 3-D printing that works: Paul McCarthy printed for his son, Leon, a prosthetic hand that is fully usable and practice.

Paul couldn’t afford to pay for thousands of dollars worth of prosthetics that offer various degrees of movement and such for his son, who was born without fingers on his left arm. Nevertheless, he stumbled across  a video online about a prosthetic hand that anyone could make with a 3-D printer, based on a design by Washington state inventor Ivan Owen. Leon’s school had a $2,500 3D printer and for just $5-10 of materials, Paul printed his son a functional mechanical arm.  As he moves his wrist forward, the fingers clench. As he moves it back, the fingers open. Powerful stuff!

via MSN

An example of a 4-D structure that morphs in time according to environmental factors. (c) Anna C. Balazs

4D printing may pave way for a new kind of smart materials

A team of scientists, part of a collaborative effort involving multiple Universities from the U.S., are proposing to take 3D printing one step further by adding a new dimension – time. Their work involves building a new class of materials that can morph, change their physical properties and functionality over time based on external stimuli by exploiting the high precision capabilities of 3-D printing.

An example of a 4-D structure that morphs in time according to environmental factors. (c) Anna C. Balazs

An example of a 4-D structure that morphs in time according to environmental factors. (c) Anna C. Balazs

Imagine an automobile coating that changes its structure to adapt to a humid environment or a salt-covered road, better protecting the car from corrosion. Or consider a soldier’s uniform that could alter its camouflage or more effectively protect against poison gas or shrapnel upon contact. The latter example is actually of great importance since the research was recently awarded a $855,000 grant from the United States Army Research Office.

The team includes principal investigator Anna C. Balazs, the Robert v. d. Luft Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and a researcher in the computational design of chemo-mechanically responsive gels and composites. Co-investigators are Jennifer A. Lewis, the Hansjo?rg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and an expert in 3D printing of functional materials; and Ralph G. Nuzzo, the G. L. Clark Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois, a synthetic chemist who has created novel stimuli-responsive materials.

4D materials

“Rather than construct a static material or one that simply changes its shape, we’re proposing the development of adaptive, biomimetic composites that reprogram their shape, properties, or functionality on demand, based upon external stimuli,” Balazs explained. “By integrating our abilities to print precise, three-dimensional, hierarchically-structured materials; synthesize stimuli-responsive components; and predict the temporal behavior of the system, we expect to build the foundation for the new field of 4D printing.”

The trio of researchers will combine their high-end expertise to manipulate materials at the micro and nano scale using 3-D printing to layer their 4D composites. If you’re not familiar with the tech yet, basically 3D printing involves precision nanoscale depositing of materials, layer by layer, thus crafting high fidelity 3D objects based on a digital model. Since they’re very precise, 3D printers will allow the scientists to build their intricate nano-patterns in specific areas of the structure.

“If you use materials that possess the ability to change their properties or shape multiple times, you don’t have to build for a specific, one-time use,” she explained. “Composites that can be reconfigured in the presence of different stimuli could dramatically extend the reach of 3D printing.”

Since the research will use responsive fillers embedded within a stimuli-responsive hydrogel, Nuzzo says this opens new routes for producing the next generation of smart sensors, coatings, textiles, and structural components.

“The ability to create one fabric that responds to light by changing its color, and to temperature by altering its permeability, and even to an external force by hardening its structure, becomes possible through the creation of responsive materials that are simultaneously adaptive, flexible, lightweight, and strong. It’s this ‘complicated functionality’ that makes true 4D printing a game changer.”

3d printing model

Software extracts 3-D objects from 2-D photos. Might change 3-D printing market

The 3-d printing industry is growing, and it’s growing darn fast. It’s no wonder why too. We’re on the brink of a small-manufacturing revolution, similar to how inkjet printers revolutionized home offices only at a totally different scale. So, your kid’s toy broke? No need to buy a new one, just print the broken part and fix it yourself. It can work for virtually any kind of commercially available products, from microwave components to plumbing fittings.

One obstacle in the way of the 3-d printing revolution is the actual part design, however. To print a 3-d object you first need a 3-d model of object in question. Sure, libraries are popping out all over the internet, some of which are already offering tens of thousands of 3D models for that matter, from sprockets to speaker housings. All of this is useless however if you can’t find exactly what you need, and that’s a pity considering your 3-D printer can rend just about anything.

3d printing model

Ariel Shamir, of the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, and Daniel Cohen-Or and Tao Chen of Tel Aviv University hope they can solve this problem with their  3-Sweep software that can instantly create 3-D models of objects from 2-D photographs. Using this highly simple idea, anyone can make their own models just by taking clear photos of their desired object.

Some CAD software companies have been offering this option for years, but most of the time these functions are pretty sloppy. You see, it’s very difficult for software to understand where an object begins and where it ends in a static photographs. Humans however have an innate ability to recognize unique object features instantly. It’s by exploring this idea that 3-Sweep shines. Basically, the software works in collaboration with the human user  who identifies the simple three-dimensional objects for the computer by drawing a line across each of its three basic axes.

From there on the software highlights the object and the user can manipulate it at will: rotate it, skew it, re-size, translate it, whatever. It can smooth edits by replicating the lighting and texture of one part of an object and applying to another when the user signals that a part brought in from a different images forms part of a single whole. Really, the whole thing is amazing! The video presentation from below illustrates the software’s capabilities better than I could ever describe. Have a look.

It doesn’t work for any type of object though. First of all, the photos need to be very clear and high resolution, not that much of a problem considering digital cameras today are quite powerful. Then the object needs to be symmetric and rather simple, so  an engine or anything with a lot of small, intricate parts won’t work  – not yet at least.

“We show that with this intelligent interactive modeling tool, the daunting task of object extraction is made simple. Once the 3D object has been extracted, it can be quickly edited and placed back into photos or 3D scenes, permitting object-driven photo editing tasks which are impossible to perform in image-space. We show several examples and present a user study illustrating the usefulness of our technique.”

No word yet on when this software might be out for consumers or whether it will cost any money. Most likely, more info will follow once the researchers officially present their paper  at Siggraph Asia in December.

via Singularity Hub 

An intricate 3D object made with a MakerBot 3D printer, a solution for home users. (c) MakerBot

3D Printing and the Future

Recently, major developments have been made in the field of 3D printing. The process of 3D printing is certainly not a new process, originally emerging in the late 1970’s. However, the process was incredibly limited back then, with the printers often large and expensive to buy and run. Skip to 2013 and the process of 3D printing has been revolutionised, so here’s everything you need to know about how 3D printing could affect your future…

What is 3D printing?

Before we start looking at the potential benefits of 3D printing, it is essential that we know exactly what it is. 3D printing is the process of using a specialist printer to transform a digital design into a physical 3D object. Depending on the intricacy of the digital design, most 3D printing takes just a few hours to complete and boasts a number of benefits to a range of sectors.

An intricate 3D object made with a MakerBot 3D printer, a solution for home users. (c) MakerBot

An intricate 3D object made with a MakerBot 3D printer, a solution for home users. (c) MakerBot

3D printing and the manufacturing industry

One of the main ways we can benefit from 3D printing is within manufacturing. In the past, if a company wants to release or trial a new product, they would have to produce a prototype. This can often be a time consuming process, as the company would have to spend time sourcing and physically assembling, sometimes intricate, parts of the product. Because of this, it can take a while for a prototype to be made available, hence slowing down all of the other stages that need to be completed before a product can be released.

3D printing, however, can be used to create a prototype of a product within a few hours. As the product would be one solid piece, there would be no time wasted on assembly either, making this an incredibly useful process that could save the manufacturing industry a wealth of currently wasted time. In addition, because the prototype would be made quicker, the company would be able to get their product on the market quicker, helping to increase their revenue.

3D printing and history

Fossils, human remains and ruins of old buildings are just a selection of items that historians and architects have discovered over the years. Due to their age, these items can be incredibly fragile and difficult to handle. 3D printing can help to limit how often historians handle the original artefact, while not affecting their vital research. Using a 3D scanner, a digital image is formed of the original artefact. This digital image is then sent to a 3D printer where an exact replica model is formed. Here, 3D printing could be essential to how we understand and discover more about ancient life.

3D printing and medicine

One of the most impressive advantages of 3D printing comes in relation to medicine. It can be used in the process of curing problems and helping to discover more about the body. Recently, 3D printing was used to create a lung splint for baby Kaiba. From birth, Kaiba had suffered from a tracheomalacia, a condition where the windpipe is flaccid. To treat his condition, doctors took a CT scan of the boy’s windpipe and used 3D printing to create a splint that would fit perfectly around his trachea, to give it all the support it needs. This is just one example of how 3D printing can be used in medicine, plus so much potential for it to be used in other ways.


Households can save big time by using 3D printers for common items

To most people, 3D printers are still sci-fi, and as a result, envisioning a 3D printer in every home is a huge stretch. But a study conducted by Michigan Technological University scientists concluded that personal manufacturing, like personal computers in their time, will become a common thing – soon.

An iPhone case you can easily print yourself - at home.

An iPhone case you can easily print yourself – at home.

“For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime,” said Associate Professor Joshua Pearce.

He goes so far as to state that even today, household 3D printers could be very effective, saving a great deal of money by printing stuff instead of buying them. The basic principle of the device is fairly simple – it deposits multiple layers of plastic or other materials to make pretty much anything – from scissors and other tools to toys. Tens of thousands of free designs can be found on websites like Thingiverse. But things go even further: not only can you download free designs, but you can also print your own stuff with open-source 3D printers, like the RepRap, which you build yourself from printed parts, or those that come in a box ready to print.

The price of such a printer varies from $350 to $2,000, and making  the very conservative assumption that the average home would need 20 items per year (for example a showerhead, a garlic press, spoonholders, toys, pasta strainers, lamps etc), the investment would pay off in a couple of years. If the 3D printer is also used for more complex items (like photographic equipment or prosthetics), the timeframe for investment recovery goes down to a few months.

A few of the most basic things you can design

A few of the most basic things you can design

“With the exponential growth of free designs and expansion of 3D printing, we are creating enormous potential wealth for everyone.” explains Pearce.

There is basically no limit to what you can print – and this technology could very well redefine the very essence of capitalism.

“Say you are in the camping supply business and you don’t want to keep glow-in-the-dark tent stakes in stock,” Pearce said. “Just keep glow-in-the-dark plastic on hand, and if somebody needs those tent stakes, you can print them. It would be a different kind of capitalism, where you don’t need a lot of money to create wealth for yourself or even start a business,” Pearce said.

Fully printed house

First fully 3-D printed house looks incredible

Possibly the most exciting technological innovation of the decade, in terms of the impact it’s projected to have, 3-D printing never seems ceasing to amaze us with its unrivaled potential. We’ve seen 3-D printed titanium jaw bones for implants, nanoscale F-1 cars, an ear or live tissue by 3-D printing of stem cells. A number of architecture firms are now competing for whose to be the first to build a fully 3-D printed house.

Softkill Design seems to be on the forefront on this particular quest, putting forth a design that’s as futuristic as the technology it relies on, but which is better off left described by these photos than by words. Some have tried though and have either called it “a dinosaur head made of spaghetti” or “a giant spider cave”. One thing’s for sure, it’s definitely macabre! Buy, hey, at least it’s eco-friendly.

According to the London architecture firm, the Protohouse, as it’s been dubbed, will be made all out of laser-sintered bioplastic and can be built off-site in three weeks and assembled in a single day. To be more precise, the  3-D printed 31 truckbed-sized pieces are assembled incredibly fast simply by snapping them together, requiring no adhesive, welding or any other constructions fastening work – not even duct tape.

“It will hopefully be the first actual 3D printed house on site,” said Gilles Retsin of Softkill Design. “We are hoping to have the first prototype out in the summer.”

“These highly fibrous structures are only 0.7 millimetres thick,” he added. “It’s impossible to print those with stone, because there’s not enough structure or strength or integrity in sand. In the factory environment you can go into stronger materials like plastics or metals.”

The Protohouse is set to eight metres wide and four metres long and will be printed in sections in a factory. It’s wacky structure might seem like it came out of some artsy intentions, but it’s actually molded around structural mechanics, since it’s actual intention is that of depositing plastic only where it’s needed.

“You’re aiming to use the smallest amount of material to achieve the strongest structure,” Retsin explained. And if you push that through to the extreme  you get something that is extremely fibrous and extremely thin.”

Meanwhile, however, a Dutch architecture company, Universe Architecture, also wants to join the 3-D constructions pioneering wave, and while their project doesn’t look as extravagant, or frightening for that matter as its UK rival, it still boasts a design that inspires.

Only one problem, though, the Landscape House won’t exactly be fully 3-D printed. Instead, whole sections using the giant D-Shape printer, which can produce sections of up to 6 x 9 metres using a mixture of sand and a binding agent, will be created to form the main structure. These hollow volumes will be filled with fibre-reinforced concrete to give it strength, which then join together to create the house.

Does the house’s design seem familiar? Maybe because it’s made to look like a mobius strip -a 3D geometric shape with no beginning or end – which is why maybe the Dutch architects enlisted mathematician and artist Rinus Roelofs to develop the house, which they estimate will take around 18 months to complete. It might take a while before they commence production though since the architects still need to wait for a buyer for the project and at a $5.3 million price tag, they might have to wait a while.


A vortex loop begins to form a knot during a demonstration in the physics laboratory of Asst. Prof. William Irvine. (c) Robert Kozloff

Water vortex loop ties itself a knot [VIDEO]

A vortex loop begins to form a knot during a demonstration in the physics laboratory of Asst. Prof. William Irvine. (c) Robert Kozloff

A vortex loop begins to form a knot during a demonstration in the physics laboratory of Asst. Prof. William Irvine. (c) Robert Kozloff

Researchers at University of Chicago have managed the difficult task of tying water vortex loops into knots, a feat akin to tying a knot out of a smoke ring. The implications of their research might further our understanding of physics and how the universe works.

Knotted vortices have been theorized for well over a century, since the days of Lord Kelvin who was among the first to study the phenomena. While the principle of such a phenomenon has been known for a very long time, physicists up until now had failed to recreate them in the lab because of their instability.

“They seem to break up in a particular way. They stretch themselves, which is a weird behavior,” said Dustin Kleckner, a postdoctoral scientist at UChicago’s James Franck Institute.

To form knotted vortices, the scientists had to overcome a number of challenges, in particular the “reconnection events” behavior. If you ever tried to merge two smoke rings for instance, you might have seen how loops circulate and collide, but instead of merging connecting vortices annihilate each other, changing their configuration from linked or knotted into one that is unlinked or unknotted.