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Press Release 12-045

Researchers 'Print' Polymers That Bend Into 3-D Shapes

Technique could be used to direct growth of blood vessels or tissues in the laboratory

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Image illustrating how a two-dimensional sheet can bend into a three-dimensional shape.

Researchers have determined how to control the shape of a polymer system at the micro-scale with a technique akin to half-tone printing.

The polymer they use swells like a microscopic sponge when exposed to water, however printing 'resist dots' in the polymer substrate creates points that will not swell (1). When all resist dots in one area are the same size, the area undergoes uniform expansion and the structure remains flat (2). When the dot size changes, however, buckling occurs from the mismatch in growth from one area to another (3). With a proper half-tone pattern of resist dots, almost any 3-D shape can be achieved. The illustration shows a square piece of polymer. Each side of the square is roughly the width of a mechanical pencil lead. If it were possible to draw a world map on this square, we could watch the map warp and wrap itself into almost a perfect sphere, a micro-globe.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Cover of the March 9, 2012 issue of the journal Science.

The researchers' work is described in the March 9, 2012 issue of the journal Science.

Credit: Copyright AAAS 2012


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