While most of us were completely amazed by 3D printers and all of the different and incredible things you could do with them, somewhere in the world a superior mind was already working on the 4D printer. If 3D printers are already helping the world create some outstanding breakthroughs we could have never thought of in the past, the surge of this new technology is paving the way for a whole new industry ahead of us.
It all started when a group of scientists from Harvard’s Wyss Institute got together and started thinking about how they could improve the already impressive 3D printers. Soon they came up with something: adding a fourth dimension (time). But, how on earth is that possible? What are we talking about? What’s a 4D print? how could you print the fourth dimension? Let’s answer this and several other questions on the following paragraphs:
Adding a time dimension, it’s not an easy thing, as you’ll have to find a way to keep plain objects from changing their shape once they’re soaked in water/ink. But, how did they do that? With a complex gel that works as the ink. The inspiration for this new printer came from plants, which have the capacity of reshaping according to outside stimulation. This way, the ink changes its physical and chemical properties the same way a plant would do depending on water or temperature.
This so-called hydrogel makes geometrical shapes change once they’re mixed with the ink of 3D printers. By modifying the printing route with this element, you can also modify the way they’ll look depending on the context or time. This experiment started off with the study and control of an item that was supposed to be soaked, up to the point where they wanted to determine how much it grew once it got in contact with the water. Once the particles line up, the 4D printer applies its hydrogel and ink to thicken the item, helping scientists work on the logarithms that allow them to design the item they want to print and all of its properties.
Eventually, scientists hope to be able to design and print items whose materials can reshape and transform with time and adjust to new contexts. That way, they will pretty much be printing things that are in a constant rebuild, and this can be applied in the construction, biology, or medicine industries and completely change the way life is conceived. Should this technological breakthrough keep advancing at this pace, scientists will pretty much have the chance to regenerate living tissue and help people with degenerative diseases go back to their normal selves. Obviously, we’re still ages away from a breakthrough of that nature, or at least, that’s what most of us think, but you never know how fast these things can develop considering how quickly technology keeps on evolving. As for us, we’ll just have to settle with our good, reliable, and old-fashioned 2D printers, at least for the time being.