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A bath for precision printing of 3-D silicone structures

Self-assembled micro-organogels for 3-D printing silicone structures

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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IMAGE: Water is pumped through a perfusable tube network created by 3-D printing liquid silicone into a mirco-organogel support material. view more 

Credit: O'Bryan et al. Sci. Adv. 2017;3:e1602800

Researchers have developed an oil-based "bath," or support system, that facilitates precise 3-D printing of silicon materials in a variety of shapes. They demonstrated the capability of this method by using it to create model tracheal implants and a functional fluid pump, among other items relevant to biomedicine. In the early 1980s, the emergence of 3-D printing led to expectations that the method would become the tool of choice for fabricating medical components from biocompatible materials like silicone. However, to date, this possibility has not been fully realized, at least for silicone-based materials, due in part to instabilities between silicone inks and the microgel systems that support 3-D printing processes. These microgels are meant to trap the printed material, and - under the right conditions - to become fluid enough for printing of a desired item to occur. This works for aqueous soft materials, though printing of silicone materials has had less success; a versatile, oil-based microgel material that could be tuned to mimic aqueous microgels has been needed. Here, Christopher S. O'Bryan et al. report such a microgel, one that eliminates instabilities between printed materials and their microgel support. Their substance contains both diblock and triblock copolymers, a combination that the authors found allows for the polymers within the microgel to expand but not lock together.

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