We know, we know…we’re the American CERAMIC Society. But this bit of video from North Carolina State University (Raleigh), where researchers at the university have used 3D printing to produce free-standing structures made of liquid metal at room temperature, was just too cool to pass up.
“It’s difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up,” says Michael Dickey in a news release. “But we’ve found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a ‘skin’ that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes.” Dickey is an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and coauthor of a paper in Advanced Materials (DOI: 10.1002/adma.201301400) describing the work.
The researchers say the structures could be used, for example, to connect electronic components in three dimensions. They’ve developed multiple techniques for stacking droplets atop each other, creating metal wires, and producing other structures. As for the end of the video, when 3D printing is used to fashion liquid metal droplet “antennae” for an insect…well, that’s just showing off. The scientists do note, however, that the bug was not harmed during production—it had already been killed by a spider.
Theatrics aside, the research team is moving forward by evaluating how to use the techniques they’ve developed in electronics applications and in conjunction with established 3D printing technologies.