Apr 5, 2018 | By David

Recent research in Russia has led to the development of a new 3D printing method that makes use  of a special nano-particle to achieve results that were previously thought impossible, with huge potential for use in bio-printing as well as electronics and other fields where resolution is particularly important. The research team were physicists from the Russian Academy of Sciences' Crystallography & Phonetics Scientific Research Center, and the results of the study were detailed in a paper entitled ''High-resolution 3D photopolymerization assisted by upconversion nanoparticles for rapid prototyping applications’', published in the journal Scientific Reports.

(source: Scientific Reports)

A common problem identified with many 3D printing techniques, even the more high-end advanced laser-based system known as two-photon lithography, is the relatively slow operational speed and poor resolution. When a high level of resolution is required, similar technologies might have a more complex workflow and less flexibility in terms of design, but they can often perform at a higher level, and much faster.

The painstaking spot-by-spot, layer-by-layer process by which 3D printing technology creates a structure is mostly to blame for this sluggish operation and insufficient resolution. The breakthrough achieved by the Russian researchers was to create a new type of particle for use in the printing material. This particle links up with other particles in a much more complex and multi-dimensional way, overcoming many of the limitations presented by the standard two-photon lithography 3D printing technique.

The two-photon lithography 3D printing technique usually involves a resin tank being selectively cured by a high-intensity laser to create a particular structure. Monomers in the resin are photo-polymerized by the laser. The team’s new nano-particles were created from sodium, thulium, ytterbium and fluorine. They are what are known as upconverting nano-particles (UCNPs), consisting of two photons. When exposed to light, they will emit a further UV ray. This energy can then be used to polymerize the surrounding particles.

Putting these UCNPs into the curing material means that three-dimensional voxels can be created. The targeting of a single spot in the resin material enables the distribution of the energy over the full-thickness of the 3D environment, creating the desired structure much more quickly. The extra emission of energy also means that the same results can be achieved with a much lower-powered NIR (near-infrared) laser, instead of the more expensive and elaborate femtosecond lasers that were previously used.

(source: Scientific Reports)

The Russian researchers’ breakthrough improves the speed and efficiency of the two-photon lithography 3D printing process. The higher resolution voxels that it creates also means that it will be more suitable for bio-printing. Whereas the shallow penetration of the lasers in the resin vat would cause problems for printing complex biological structures, this new approach would enable photo-polymerization to take place much deeper within the tissue.

According to Cyril Khaydukov, one of the co-authors of this pioneering study, ''This idea can be used in biomedical purposes, in particular, in tissue engineering, replacing the damaged parts of organs and tissues by using various polymer materials. We expect that our technology will allow to create structures of desired sizes and properties within living tissues to replace the damage.''



Posted in Printing Technology



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