“Erasable ink” enables creating nanostructures in 3D printing

“Erasable ink” enables creating nanostructures in 3D printing

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

In direct laser writing, a computer-controlled, focused laser beam produces the structure in a photoresist like a pen. The KIT researchers have developed a process that allows the 3-D ink for the printer to be ‘wiped away’. “Developing an ink that can be erased is one of the major challenges in direct laser writing,” says professor Christopher Barner-Kowollik of KIT’s Institute for Technical Chemistry and Polymer Chemistry. The scientists have succeeded in developing an ink with a reversible binding linkage, the building blocks of which can be separated again. The print is simply deleted by dipping it into a solvent. At the location, it is possible to write again, the structure thus can be changed several times.

The method was developed in close cooperation with the group of professor Martin Wegener at the Institute for Applied Physics and the Institute of Nanotechnology at KIT. The physicists developed the highly specialized 3-D printers with which up to 100 nanometers of fine patterns are created by direct laser writing.

“The ink with break-in points offers a wide range of applications,” emphasizes doctorate and study author Markus Zieger. Forms written with erasable ink can be integrated into structures made of non-erasable ink. This makes it possible to produce supporting structures in three-dimensional printing – similar to those used in bridge construction – and to remove them again in the subsequent production process. For biology, 3-D designer petrials have been further developed, which were recently also developed at the KIT in order to grow cell cultures in the laboratory in a suitable spatial structure. “During cell growth, parts of the three-dimensional microstructure can be removed again to investigate how the cells react to the altered environment,” explains Wegener. It is also conceivable to produce reversible wire bonds as electronic components with the help of conductive structures written with erasable ink, according to the scientist. By mixing a permanent and a nonpermanent ink, the properties of the printed material can be influenced, for example, making it more or less porous.

The scientists involved will present the new procedure entitled “Cleaving Direct Laser Written Microstructures on Demand” for the first time in the renowned scientific journal Angewandte Chemie. The reviewers have classified and highlighted the publication as ‘Very Important Paper’. Already today, 3-D printing is indispensable in many production areas, and its importance is increasing. “It is estimated that in 2030 perhaps ten percent of all goods will be printed 3-D,” said Barner-Kowollik and Wegener.



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