Jan 19, 2017 | By Tess

Last April, a team of researchers from the American University in Washington, DC succeeded in 3D printing a chemically active structure using nanocomposites and a commercial 3D printer. The research achievement, which gained much attention on social media, has now been recognized by the Science and Technology of Advanced Materials journal, having been awarded the STAM 2016 Altmetrics Award.

Led by chemist Matthew Hartings from the American University, the 3D printing project set out to investigate whether or not 3D printed objects could demonstrate chemical reactivity, and be used more creatively within the field of chemistry. Typically, additive manufacturing is only used within chemistry labs to push forward research on other materials and structures, used as an accessory, so to speak. As Hartings states, “As a chemist, printed things are kind of boring. I wanted 3D printed objects to be able to do chemistry after they were printed.”

Now, by his own volition, Hartings seems to have got what he wanted. Conducted in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Food and Drug Administration, Hartings’ research demonstrates how nanoparticles can be essentially mixed in with 3D printable polymers to make 3D printed objects that are not simply static, but take on chemical properties—properties that come about during or after a chemical reaction.

left to right: 3D printed polymer structures containing TiO2 nanoparticles at 0, 1 and 5% by dry weight

More specifically, the project consisted of blending titanium oxide (TiO2) nanoparticles with a 3D printed polymer. Titanium oxide, a naturally occurring semiconductor sourced from ilmenite, rutile and anatase, possesses photocatalytic properties under UV light and is found in a wide variety of everyday products, including sunscreen, cosmetics, food coloring, and more. Amazingly, the 3D printed object made from the mixed material showcased not only superior mechanical properties to its only-polymer counterpart, but also displayed chemical properties.

One of the most significant things about the innovative research is the implications it could have for the environment. That is, the ability to 3D print chemically active structures could mean the production of seeming static objects that are actually breaking down active pollutants in the air through their chemical compositions. Of course, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done, especially in terms of experimenting with different, more optimized polymers. (For their research, the scientists used acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS).

“I'm really interested in the way that our 3D printed nanocomposites can store and filter gases,” Hartings explained. “Developing new ways to trap gases like carbon dioxide and hydrogen and methane will have huge implications for our environment and society.”

The STAM 2016 Altmetrics Award was given to the 3D printing research project largely because of the attention it attracted via mainstream and social media—a clear sign that the achievement was relevant and exciting not only within academic circles. As one can imagine, the award has been gratifying and stimulating for Hartings and his team, who will undoubtedly continue their groundbreaking work.

In related news, chemists from MIT recently found success creating 3D printed materials whose chemical properties could be altered after printing. The scientists were also able to fuse multiple 3D printed objects together with light. 



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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