Home Research & Education MIT and UT Austin demonstrate first chip-based 3D printer technology

MIT and UT Austin demonstrate first chip-based 3D printer technology

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Texas at Austin have taken a decisive step towards portable 3D printers. In a recent study, they presented the first prototype of a chip-based 3D printer that requires no moving parts.

At the heart of the concept is a millimeter-sized photonic chip that emits controllable beams of light into a container of light-sensitive liquid resin. Irradiation causes the material to harden at the desired points, forming the desired three-dimensional structure.

“This system completely rethinks what a 3D printer is,” explains lead author Jelena Notaros from MIT. “It’s no longer a big box in the lab, but a handy, portable printer. This opens up exciting new application possibilities.”

The prototype uses a chip with 160 nanometer thin optical antennas that can emit light in precisely controllable paths. A specially developed, light-sensitive resin hardens in the exposed areas within seconds. In this way, the researchers were able to print two-dimensional patterns such as the letters “MIT”.

In the long term, the scientists are aiming for a chip that generates three-dimensional light holograms in order to fully cure objects in a single step. They see potential applications in medical technology for the production of individual components and as a prototyping tool for engineers.

“A technology like this would be extremely versatile and can be used anywhere,” emphasizes Notaros. “But there are still some technical hurdles to overcome in the realization of volumetric 3D printing.”

More details can be found in the paper “Silicon-photonics-enabled chip-based 3D printer“.

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