New 3D printing technique grows 'living' creations using light

A team of researchers has developed a new 3D printing technique, dubbed ‘living polymerization’, that allows you to transform objects with light and heat after they’ve been printed.

According to the MIT scientists behind the breakthrough, living polymerization lets you change a 3D-printed object’s shape, colour and size, as well as fuse it with other objects.   

They designed new polymers that can be reactivated by light, each containing chemical groups called TTCs, which “act like a folded up accordion,” as MIT News reports. 

Exposure to blue light activates organic catalysts in the polymers, which attach new monomers to the TTCs, stretching them out and altering their mechanical and chemical properties. 

“The idea is that you could print a material and subsequently take that material and, using light, morph the material into something else, or grow the material further,” said Jeremiah Johnson, associate professor of chemistry at MIT. 

“That’s the breakthrough in this paper: We really have a truly living method where we can take macroscopic materials and grow them in the way we want to.”

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to build your own transforming creations at home yet, but the breakthrough opens up a wave of exciting new research opportunities for the scientists at MIT.