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Move Over 3D Printing! 4D Could Be On The Way

Imagine creating a synthetic version of the surface of a single human cell. It would be hugely complicated, as you’d have to work on an atomic scale and add just the right molecules in precisely the right places. But if this were possible, it would facilitate the development of medicines and biotechnology.

Thanks to new research, this could become a reality. The research comes from the lab of Professor Adam Braunschweig at The Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and Hunter College, along with colleagues at Northwestern University. In a study published in Nature Communications, the team demonstrated the method they came up with for “4D printing.” Their system lets them print polymers onto a surface while independently controlling four factors: the x- and y- position of each polymer, its height, and its chemical makeup.

Researchers’ previous attempts to do this have been limited by time-consuming methods and costly materials. But the new method, the authors say, could have applications in many fields including drug research, tissue engineering, optics, and biosensor development.

“We’ve created a new tool for performing organic chemistry on surfaces, and its usage and application are only limited by the imagination of the user and their knowledge of organic chemistry,” Braunschweig told CUNY ASRC.

The system prints out chains of molecules, called polymers, and the chains are attached to a flat surface at one end. Microfluidic pumps inject the molecular building blocks into a reaction chamber, and very carefully focused beams of light spark the reactions, making the building blocks link up to form the chains.

To demonstrate their success, the researchers printed a millimeter-scale image of Lady Liberty using different height polymers to create different levels of shading.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Polymer brush hypersurface photolithography
Nature Communications, 2020

Work By

Adam Braunschweig (Associate Professor, Chemistry, Nanoscience Initiative) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Bonus Content

"Nanoscale 4D Printing Technique May Speed Development of New Therapeutics" (Advanced Science Research Center)
"A New Light on Surface Science" (Optics & Photonics News)