Nanoscale "supersoap" allows liquid 3D structures to be printed within other liquids
Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley NationalLaboratory (LBNL) have found a way to "print" narrow tubes ofwater within liquid-state silicone oil. Because of a special nanoscalecoating, the water structures survive without breaking down intodroplets even as the encapsulating fluid changes shape. This new formof 3D printing could give rise to flexible and stretchable liquidelectronics, aid chemical synthesis, or serve as a transport anddelivery system for nanoscale particles.
The team of researchers led by Tom Russell modifieda standard 3D printer so it would inject narrow streams of waterdirectly into a small container filled with silicone oil. The streamsof water don't break down into droplets thanks to a special nanoscalesurfactant– a substance that reduces surface tension – which separates thewater from the surrounding liquid.
Thesurfactant, a "nanoparticle supersoap," simultaneously dispersesgold nanoparticles into the water and binding polymers into the oil.After water is injected, the polymers attach to individual watermolecules, forming a soap, vitrifying, and locking the waterstructures into place even as the surrounding oil changes shape.
Waterfilaments can be as narrow as 10 microns – thinner than a humanhair – and several meters long. According to the researchers, the"supersoap" mechanism allows the structure to remain in place formonths at a time.
Flexibleand stretchable liquid-based electronics may be many years frombecoming a reality, but the liquid-printing technology also opens upother interesting avenues, such as the ability to fabricate complexcoatings with specific structures or advanced magnetic properties.The researchers also suggest they could manipulate thechemistry of the tubes and use them to separate molecules or route nanoscale buildingblocks to their destination.
The researchers describe their printing method in apaper published in the journal Advanced Materials, and in the video below.