Apr 13, 2017 | By Benedict

Northwestern University's Ramille Shah has led her Tissue Engineering and Additive Manufacturing (TEAM) Laboratory to 3D print structures made out of Martian and lunar dust simulants. Despite being made of dust, the structures have a flexible, rubberlike consistency.

When we reported on Ramille Shah’s 3D printed “hyperelastic bone” implants last year, we were pretty impressed: here was a way of creating cheap bone implants that could be stored for up to a year. This not only made the implants easy to produce, it was also ideal for sending the devices to far-flung corners of the world, since their long journey would not make them any less viable for implantation.

What we never expected, however, was for Shah’s hyperelastic bone technique to return in a new and completely unrecognizable guise—namely, as a way of 3D printing structures on Mars and the Moon.

Incredibly, Shah and her laboratory have done just that. The assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering (and of surgery in the Feinberg School of Medicine) has repurposed her established process to 3D print structures made from Martian and lunar dust simulants, and her research demonstrates that solid objects could be built on Mars and the Moon using local materials.

“For places like other planets and moons, where resources are limited, people would need to use what is available on that planet in order to live,” said Shah. “Our 3D paints really open up the ability to print different functional or structural objects to make habitats beyond Earth.”

Selection of objects 3D printed in Martian & lunar dust simulants

The research project involved the use of NASA-approved lunar and Martian dust simulants, which have similar compositions, particle shapes, and sizes to the dusts found on lunar and Martian surfaces. These dusts were used to make the special “3D paints” Shah mentions, by being mixed with a series of simple solvents and biopolymer, then 3D printed using a simple extrusion process.

The 3D printed structures are over 90 percent dust by weight—but you wouldn’t know it. Despite being made of rigid micro-rocks, the 3D printed material is flexible, elastic, and tough, and shares a lot of characteristics with rubber. After being printed, it can be cut, rolled, folded, and more.

"We even 3D printed interlocking bricks, similar to LEGOs, that can be used as building blocks," Shah said.

Interestingly, these 3D printed dust structures could even be altered to exhibit entirely different properties, giving future space colonizers a greater level of flexibility in their 3D printing endeavors: Shah is currently working with Northwestern professor David Dunand to develop ways to fire the 3D painted structures in a furnace, making them hard instead of rubbery.

Composition of the 3D paints made from Martian & lunar dust simulants

Shah added that, even though the colonization of other planets might be some way off, it’s never too soon to start planning. Others would appear to agree: a few weeks ago, the European Space Agency 3D printed structures made from simulated Mars dust.

Shah’s research was recently published in Nature Scientific Reports. Adam Jakus, a Hartwell postdoctoral fellow in Shah's TEAM lab, was the paper's first author.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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Jos Hoebe wrote at 4/13/2017 1:53:33 PM:

Then this can be done with earth dust too. On any location take the dust / soil and dry to the need, refine it a bit by grinding, sief it and mix it with the adhesive cure. Print. Print big lego blocks and you can built houses, etc.

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