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Chameleons inspire colour-changing 3D printing tech

20 February 2024

Researchers draw inspiration from chameleons to unveil a 3D printing technique capable of producing dynamic multicolour designs from just a single ink.

Image: Sanghyun Jeon, Diao Lab
Image: Sanghyun Jeon, Diao Lab

“By designing new chemistries and printing processes, we can modulate structural colour on the fly to produce colour gradients not possible before,” said Ying Diao, an Associate Professor of chemistry and chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

“This work is a great illustration of the power of collaboration,” said coauthor Damien Guironnet, an Associate Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

In this study, Diao and her colleagues present a UV-assisted direct-ink-write 3D printing approach capable of altering structural colour during the printing process by tuning light to control the evaporative assembly of specially designed crosslinking polymers.

“Unlike traditional colours which come from chemical pigments or dyes that absorb light, the structural colours abundant in many biological systems come from nano-textured surfaces that interfere with visible light. This makes them more vibrant and potentially more sustainable,” said Sanghyun Jeon, the lead author and a graduate student in the Diao Lab.

The researchers can produce structural colours in the visible wavelength spectrum from deep blue to orange. While an artist might use many different paints to achieve this colour gradient, the research team uses a single ink and modifies how it is printed to create the colour gradient.

“The work shows the benefit of us all having learned from each other by sharing our successes and challenges,” said coauthor Simon Rogers, an Associate Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“Only by working together could we design this system at the molecular level to yield such fascinating properties," said coauthor Charles Sing, an Associate Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and materials science and engineering.

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