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Researchers 3D-print glass using new method

"[The] technology could be used, for instance, to make small, complex structures out of a large number of very small optical components of different orientations," said researcher Bastian Rapp.

By
Brooks Hays
Researchers used their new 3D-printing technique to create a variety of intricate and complex glass structures, including a glass pretzel. Photo by KIT
Researchers used their new 3D-printing technique to create a variety of intricate and complex glass structures, including a glass pretzel. Photo by KIT

April 21 (UPI) -- Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, have developed a method for 3D-printing with glass.

The 3D printer is supplied with a novel mixture of high-purity quartz glass nanoparticles and a small amount of liquid polymer, which works as a binding agent. Scientists use stereolithography to cure the printed product with light, before washing out any remaining liquid in a solution bath. Any polymer that remains trapped in the glass is melted away during a final heating stage.

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"The shape initially resembles that of a pound cake; it is still unstable, and therefore the glass is sintered in a final step, i.e. heated so that the glass particles are fused," Bastian E. Rapp, a mechanical engineer at KIT, said in a news release.

Previous attempts to 3D-print with melted glass yielded porous structures with a rough surface. The new method avoids such problems. Scientists were able to construct a variety of complex structures using the new 3D-printing technique.

Measurements of the final product suggests the glass features intricate microstructures. Researchers observed glass structures measuring just a few micrometers.

"[The] technology could be used, for instance, to make small, complex structures out of a large number of very small optical components of different orientations," Rapp explained.

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Researchers believe the method could be used to produce special lenses for a variety of optical applications.

Rapp and his colleagues detailed their success in the journal Nature.

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