Mathematics breakthrough opens door to revolutionary ‘4D printing’

8 Feb 2018

Image: napocska/Shutterstock

A mathematician has been crunching the numbers to push us beyond 3D printing, and into advanced ‘4D printing’.

Makers and engineers have flocked to 3D printing as an inexpensive method of fabricating intricate shapes that are beyond the capabilities of traditional machinery.

But what if we could take this one step further and achieve 4D printing – that is, the possibility to fabricate objects with a programmable shape over time?

Until now, such advancements were limited because engineering had yet to fill the gap in the comprehension of the unprecedented degree of complexity dominating this novel technology.

However, in a paper published to Nature Communications, Prof Pasquale Ciarletta from Politecnico di Milano has crunched the numbers to find a means of controlling the sudden nucleation of localised furrows, also known as creases, in soft solids.

Helps us understand the brain

Aside from just being of interest to engineering scientists to design and build objects that can morph over time, it could also help us achieve a better understanding of developmental biology, as it helps to explain the spontaneous emergence of patterns during tissue morphogenesis –so, for example, the folding patterns of the brain, or metastasis in tumour development.

Ciarletta said: “Despite almost a century of thorough experimental investigation of the problem in engineering, the physics behind creasing remained largely unexplained up to date, due to its formidable complexity.

“This study proposes a novel mathematical approach to accurately predict the experimental conditions triggering the onset and the morphology of creases, thus paving the way for controlling their appearance on demand, down to nanometric scales.”

Ciarletta added that in terms of breakthroughs, these mathematical results could allow for the creation of stretchable electronics, self-foldable machines and lab-on-a-chip devices.

Other advances in 3D printing

Meanwhile, recent advancements in the world of 3D printing have shown it is now possible to edit objects after they have been created.

To achieve this, a team of researchers from MIT found a way of repeatedly changing the colours of 3D-printed objects after fabrication.

Called ColorFab, the method involves using a specially created 3D-printable ink that changes colour when exposed to UV light, meaning the object can be recoloured in about 20 minutes.

As the researchers improve upon this creation, they expect that this timeframe could shrink substantially.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic