3D Printed 'metamaterial' shrinks under heating

  • Nimish Sany
  • 26 October , 2016

Take a good look at this 3D printed star-shaped object from the research labs of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; it evades natural laws of physics and is a milestone in the field of metamaterials.

What could happen to a micro-chip if exposed to too much heat? The same that would happen to a cracker, according to principles of thermal expansion. The concept is that any material exposed to too much heat expands until it cracks. Well not all materials, there are certain materials which defy this natural law, but they are compounds created from rare elements in the labs exclusively for their applications in aerospace industries and such. These compounds follow the principle of negative thermal expansion (NTE), a theory that has long been in existence, but couldn’t be materialized into structure as researchers and scientists didn’t have the resources. However; that is until now.  Nicholas X. Fang of MIT and his team has successfully created a ‘metamaterial’ which follows NTE, using 3D printing and guess what; it contracts when heated!

metamaterial structure

'Metamaterial' is made of trusses and beams. Image: MIT/Youtube

A 3D printing technique called ‘microstereolithography’ was devised by Fang and his team, which allowed them to print tiny yet complex structures on liquid resins. “We can now use the microstereolithography system to create a thermomechanical metamaterial that may enable applications not possible before,” says Christopher Spadaccini of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), who was part of the research team.

An excerpt from the MIT website reads, “The tiny, star-shaped structures out of interconnected beams, or trusses. The structures, each about the size of a sugar cube, quickly shrink when heated to about 540 degrees Fahrenheit (282 C).” Fang explains the concept using an example of a microchip, “Printed circuit boards can heat up when there’s a CPU running, and this sudden heating could affect their performance. So you really have to take great care in accounting for this thermal stress or shock.” Even though the shrinking is clocked at a marginal 0.6 percent, the results are extremely positive as the metamaterial shrinks under heat.


Nimish Sany: I bleed my thoughts on paper. And if I cant find a paper, blogs serve the purpose just fine.

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