Northwestern researchers discover pop-up printing technique

Alice Yin, Development and Recruitment Editor

Northwestern researchers have discovered a fabrication technique that can substitute three-dimensional printing, the University announced last week.

McCormick Profs. Yonggang Huang and Yihui Zhang developed the method, which resembles the movement of a children’s pop-up book. They worked with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Prof. John Rogers on the discovery, which is the first of its kind.

“We feel very happy,” Huang told the Daily. “We can provide better ways to fabricate 3D structure. We are really, very excited about this new opportunity.”

Normally, 3D printing involves adding layers of material to build a complete structure. With the new fabrication technique, this process can be bypassed, as the technology is comprised of more than 40 different pre-cut designs that can spring up in one stamp.

The mold starts as a flat base, composed of silicon and other advanced materials, and pops up into geometric structures such as flowers, baskets or starfish. The thickness of the shell can be as small as 100 nanometers.

“When you build a house you have to build the first floor, second floor … but now it’s one shot,” Huang said. “For us it’s one shot, whichever shell you want.”

The discovery holds advantages over traditional 3D printing. The simpler idea makes construction of structures quicker and cheaper, and machines can also multitask and combine different substances.

Huang said the process is going smoothly, with the team working on real-life applications. The technique is a good fit for electronic devices, especially in the biomedical field, Huang said. With 3D geometric structures present throughout nature, the team hopes to develop the right set of patterns to create suitable devices.

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