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3-D Structures Built Out of Liquid Metal At Room Temperature

Unknown Lamer posted 1 year,14 days | from the micro-t-1000 dept.

Printer 72

ph4cr writes with news that a few researchers have discovered an alloy that allows them to print 3D structures from liquid metal at room temperature. From the article: "'It's difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up. 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,' says Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work. ... One technique involves stacking droplets of liquid metal on top of each other, much like a stack of oranges at the supermarket. The droplets adhere to one another, but retain their shape – they do not merge into a single, larger droplet. ... Another technique injects liquid metal into a polymer template, so that the metal takes on a specific shape. The template is then dissolved, leaving the bare, liquid metal in the desired shape. The researchers also developed techniques for creating liquid metal wires, which retain their shape even when held perpendicular to the substrate." The paper is available online. There's also a video of the process in action, below the fold.

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72 comments

Okay (4, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237501)

That's quite impressive. The obvious "next step" in 3D printing, but how realistic is it to a home user? We already have myriad ways to lay circuits etc. out, and the point of 3D printing is not that we could never make little plastic shapes before, but that it's something I can do as much as I like if I buy a 3D printer, raw materials and some model plans, without requiring specialist knowledge or handling.

Does this let me add metals into my 3d plans? Does this allow me to print circuit boards (hmmm... sounds familiar....)? Or is it just an impractical way of doing the same things with a single alloy that we can do any number of other ways.

What's the killer application here? Could I 3D print a working set of Christmas lights without having to worry about bulbs, cables, wires, circuits boards, etc? Just have a device with two nozzles that does all the hard work and just churns out the completed product from a plan? I'm guessing not, or at least not before something else will come along and make that possible.

But, still, it's very nice to watch and dream.

Re:Okay (5, Funny)

shadowrat (1069614) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237551)

What's the killer application here?

T-1000

Re:Okay (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238775)

And when the machines take over, this video will ensure the bugs avenge us.

Re:Okay (4, Insightful)

Russ1642 (1087959) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237577)

The next step is to find out that you can't get tons of cheap indium and gallium.

Re:Okay (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | 1 year,14 days | (#44240343)

My question to the PhD's is, "build a 3D printer that works with a hand full of dirt placed in some kind of hopper? energy is both wind and solar." Some kid in Egypt did it if that helps.

Re:Okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,9 days | (#44288689)

You have Earth and Wind, but you need Water and Fire in order to have all the elements and be able to make anything. Solar isn't an element.

Re:Okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44243459)

its only a start..

gallium is expensive (4, Interesting)

dmoen (88623) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237629)

I'm paying $25 for a kilogram of 3D-printable ABS filament. A kilogram of gallium is probably close to $1000, based on prices I've seen on ebay.

Re:gallium is expensive (2)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237721)

I'm paying $25 for a kilogram of 3D-printable ABS filament. A kilogram of gallium is probably close to $1000, based on prices I've seen on ebay.

you wouldn't need that much of it for conducting though?

but do these shapes retain their form if they get touched..

Re:gallium is expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44240977)

You better get a raise, or win the lottery

Re:Okay (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44237713)

The 'next step' is probably not printing with eutectic InGal alloys, but with other metals that exhibit the same properties but at higher melting points. One of the paper authors casually mentioned on Reddit that Aluminium happens to have the right properties.

If you're willing to accept long print times, melting microlitre/picolitre quantities of Aluminium with an induction heating nozzle seems entirely possible to do at home.

Re:Okay (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238393)

Even better, I've heard that Aluminum alloys wonderfully with Gallium.

Re:Okay (0)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239033)

Why do you write aluminum but you don't write gallum?

Because it's aluminium and gallium.

Re:Okay (2)

robinsonne (952701) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239141)

Because aluminum is only spelled aluminium in the UK/Commonwealth countries. Everywhere else it's aluminum. (Spell checker is yelling at me for spelling it your way)

Re:Okay (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239445)

So, it's spelled properly in all modern countries and spelled improperly in third-world countries.

Re:Okay (1)

fnj (64210) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239857)

Ha ha, good one. Both sides can actually agree on that.

Re:Okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44242999)

So, it's spelled properly in all modern countries and spelled improperly in third-world countries.

How unique that british arrogance is

Re: Okay (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44239163)

I'm guessing it's because he missed that day at Spelling Nazi Brownshirt Camp.

Re:Okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44240775)

Why do you write aluminium but you don't write platinium and tantalium? The latter was even a possible spelling for tantalum for a time.

Maybe it has something to do with not all elements ending in -ium, and the guy credited with discovering aluminum, Humphry Davy, couldn't spell it consistently himself, within a few years using both spellings.

Re:Okay (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | 1 year,14 days | (#44241481)

We should just rename it once and for all, to end the debate.

I suggest Davydium.

Re:Okay (1)

Warwick Taylor (2958875) | 1 year,14 days | (#44246563)

Paul Simon lyric right?

Re:Okay (4, Interesting)

tlhIngan (30335) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239583)

The 'next step' is probably not printing with eutectic InGal alloys, but with other metals that exhibit the same properties but at higher melting points. One of the paper authors casually mentioned on Reddit that Aluminium happens to have the right properties.

If you're willing to accept long print times, melting microlitre/picolitre quantities of Aluminium with an induction heating nozzle seems entirely possible to do at home.

Why not use existing Tin-alloys? the melting point of those isn't that high to begin with, and we have plenty of that in cheap quantities (it's also known as... solder).

Re:Okay (2)

LifesABeach (234436) | 1 year,14 days | (#44240407)

I can't help but wonder if the folks building these 3D Printers haven't thought about using more than one print head to speed up production time?

fab at home (1)

dmoen (88623) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237715)

The fabathome.org 3D printer is open source, has been available for years, and can print a wide range of materials, including conductors. It's never really taken off, probably due to having lower resolution than the popular FDM printers that print with melted plastic. But if you want a home printer that can print objects with a range of materials, including conductors, check it out.

Re:fab at home (2)

WillAdams (45638) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237881)

Are you sure it wouldn't have more to do w/ things like: http://www.fabathome.org/index.php?q=node/10 [fabathome.org] having a link to: http://fabathome.org/wiki2/wiki.html [fabathome.org] which is 404.

The website rendering unbelievably hideously in Safari.

The link for ``get a printer'' going to: http://www.fabathome.org/wiki/index.php/Fab@Home:Choose_Your_Fabber [fabathome.org] which is also 404.

I was interested in it, despite the low resolution, but that's more energy / irritation than I'm willing to deal with.

Re:fab at home (2)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238149)

you can build syringe based extruders for repraps if you want too.

I wouldn't exactly call fabathome a "home printer" though, I'd reckon their biggest customers are people like specialist cake makers..

Re:fab at home (1)

Nadaka (224565) | 1 year,14 days | (#44242665)

They claim you can print in stainless steel, even producing high stress mechanical components like a bicycle sprocket. But there is no where that they explain or demonstrate this. By what mechanism can they produce steel components?

Semantics (1)

HeadlessNotAHorseman (823040) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238531)

Is it really a structure built out of liquid metal, or is it a structure containing liquid metal?

Re:Okay (1)

b4upoo (166390) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238913)

Considering the rarity of Indium I look at this as only a first step. Perhaps a droplet of some aluminum or other common metal might be sprayed through a cloud of very cold nitrogen such that it maintains its structure upon landing might be next.
                            I do expect 3D printing to alter society as much as the invention of the automobile over a few decades. Imagine most of the items that you purchase being created by 3D printers. The first home is soon to be printed and it will work. You'll see it this fall.

Re:Okay (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | 1 year,14 days | (#44240509)

One can only imagine the frustration of Natural Disasters when they leave a path of ruin and destruction; that some machine(s) begin to rebuild immediately afterwards. That includes the unwashed dishes before the disaster.

Re:Okay (2)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | 1 year,14 days | (#44241913)

As mentioned by an AC further down, this seems to be most useful for things like self-reparing wires. With far more maleability and ductility that traditional wires you can do a lot more fancy stuff with liquid wires.

Re:Okay (1)

Artagel (114272) | 1 year,14 days | (#44242505)

If you go to the article, you can see that this means that you can embed a stretchable wire in a plastic body. The high self-attraction of the metal for itself instead of the plastic means you have a wire that is not going to develop stress and break.

Re:Okay (1)

Princeofcups (150855) | 1 year,14 days | (#44242681)

That's quite impressive.

....

But, still, it's very nice to watch and dream.

Dreaming, yes. Any idea what precision is required for electronics? Hint, a lot more than this printer gives you. Also, there are dozens of different metals and non-metals required to make even simple devices, most of which will not easily be formed/combined by such a machine. These printers do not do 1% of what people think they can.

Complex structures... (4, Funny)

verbatim (18390) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237543)

Can it form complex machines? guns and explosives that have chemicals and moving parts -- or is it limited to forming solid metal shapes like knives and stabbing weapons?

Re:Complex structures... (2)

Plumpaquatsch (2701653) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237707)

Can it form complex machines? guns and explosives that have chemicals and moving parts -- or is it limited to forming solid metal shapes like knives and stabbing weapons?

No, it's limited to liquid metal shapes that fall apart if you look at them funny.

Whoosh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44238809)

The sound of the T-1000's blade-arm swinging right over your head.

Re:Complex structures... (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239177)

I don't know, but technically it is a "poly-metal alloy".

Re:Complex structures... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44242937)

...but is it a mimetic poly-alloy?

3D Print a Real, Metal Gun (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44237563)

That's the real question that needs to be answered? Will I finally be able to manufacture my own actual, metallic pistol using this process? (Perfectly legal to do so in the US, BTW)

Re:3D Print a Real, Metal Gun (1)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237747)

That's the real question that needs to be answered? Will I finally be able to manufacture my own actual, metallic pistol using this process? (Perfectly legal to do so in the US, BTW)

it's perfectly legal for you to buy cnc that does it for you..

under the skin this gallium stuff is still liquid apparently so I wouldn't try and print a gun with this.

Please print a gun and youtube it...pretty please (2)

techsimian (2555762) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238569)

The obsession with printing a gun is annoying. How come no one is printing cars? or actual devices...

3d printing used to be called rapid prototyping...which used to lead to questions like... "That IS cool looking! Does it shoot?" ...and answers like "No, it's a prototype"

Re:Please print a gun and youtube it...pretty plea (3, Insightful)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239099)

Americans are obsessed with guns. They supposedly have the right to own them in case they need to overthrow a corrupt government but for the last two or three decades they haven't even blinked.

Re:Please print a gun and youtube it...pretty plea (1)

crakbone (860662) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239339)

Depends on your definition of corrupt government I suppose. It seems like we have over thrown quite a bunch of governments lately. Not that I like the idea of my country stomping and poking every country around.

Re:Please print a gun and youtube it...pretty plea (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44242979)

the last 3 or 4 decades we faced massive gun control.

Re:3D Print a Real, Metal Gun (2)

JDG1980 (2438906) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239941)

That's the real question that needs to be answered? Will I finally be able to manufacture my own actual, metallic pistol using this process? (Perfectly legal to do so in the US, BTW)

If you really want to make your own guns, then you'd be much better off buying a CNC machine. Use the right tool for the right job.

Why does everyone somehow seem to think that additive manufacturing ("3D printing") is better than subtractive (standard CNC)?

Re:3D Print a Real, Metal Gun (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | 1 year,14 days | (#44240677)

3D Printing is a new technology. CNC's are very well defined. Before CNC's one had to use humans referred to as "Precision Machinists." My question is, "how does one repair a cable on the Golden Gate Bridge?" How could a 3D Printer be used for that?

Re:3D Print a Real, Metal Gun (3, Interesting)

Applekid (993327) | 1 year,14 days | (#44243191)

Why does everyone somehow seem to think that additive manufacturing ("3D printing") is better than subtractive (standard CNC)?

This blog post [reprap.org] should help out.

The materials gap is closing. Provided we actually get to a point where the physical properties of an additive object versus a subtractive object are no different, there won't be many compelling reasons to use subtractive anymore. At the very least, it'll be a question of whether you want to sweep up a bunch of sharp tailings every night or not.

Come with me if you want to live. (0)

auric_dude (610172) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237567)

Liquid metal has been around for a while in fiction, but now in the real world?

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (2)

tgd (2822) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237585)

Liquid metal has been around for a while in fiction, but now in the real world?

Its been around for a reasonable number of billions of years, as long as you're somewhere with the proper ambient temperature.

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (1)

crapoid685 (1442209) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237697)

Liquid metal has been around for a while in fiction, but now in the real world?

Of course it has. I mean the T-1000 is 20+ years old now. This is old news.

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (1)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238185)

Liquid metal has been around for a while in fiction, but now in the real world?

Of course it has. I mean the T-1000 is 20+ years old now. This is old news.

T-1000 isn't built yet, 2029 or somewhere around then.

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (2)

crakbone (860662) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239351)

Yeah but the prototype was seen about 20 years ago. I heard it was already patented by Apple.

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44240051)

The patent is on round shaped metal objects they call "droplets" that can conduct electricity in electronic devices if drawn into a tube using a computerized extrusion process. The "iDrop" device will be coming as soon as they start suing Clear Eyes and Bausch and Lomb.

Best human check word for this convo: Extort

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44237817)

Liquid metal has existed for a very, very long time.

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44237995)

Indeed, it has even been in use by humans for a long time. For example in thermometers.

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (3, Funny)

NatasRevol (731260) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237993)

Mercury says you're an idiot.

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44238079)

.. have you ever heard of mercury ??? ... ???

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44238091)

Has news of mercury not made it to your basement yet?

Re:Come with me if you want to live. (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | 1 year,14 days | (#44239117)

Indeed it has, in 1991 [wikipedia.org] .

Uses in self healing wires (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44237617)

I think the better use for the material is in self healing wires. Stretchable, bendable, maybe even cutable.. then the liquid can re attack to itself.

Looks a bit like World of Goo (1)

griffo (220478) | 1 year,14 days | (#44237973)

Vid from 0:14 to 0:41 looks a bit like World of Goo...

Yet another extruder (1)

loufoque (1400831) | 1 year,14 days | (#44238055)

At least this one has high resolution. They didn't show it making complicated things though.

Frost Pist (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44238283)

the reaper In a user. 'Now ThaFt not going home Continues to lose rivalry. While available to provide sodas,

Worthless junk, AGAIN! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44238351)

So what? You can take several metals that are so pricey that in reality this will never be done other than to prove that
someone can have their head up their arse and sodomize themselves at the same time.

Doh. Wait. Having
your head up your arse is sodomizing yourself..

Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44238707)

Anyone else watch that video and feel a strange compulsion to play World of Goo?

Melting point (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44239277)

Don't expect to make anything useful. In-Ga alloys are very low melting, often in the hand or even below room temperature.

Re:Melting point (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44243513)

Let me guess.. you've never created anything useful in your life.

T2000 (1)

kheldan (1460303) | 1 year,14 days | (#44240381)

I, for one, welcome our Robert Patick-esque liquid-metal killer-android 3D-printed overlords!

Not perfect (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44243793)

I spotted a bug in the video.

Beautiful (2)

Hentes (2461350) | 1 year,14 days | (#44243811)

I don't care how practical it is, I could watch this thing all day long.

The Music (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,14 days | (#44243907)

Anyone else thinking about what items to buy for their Sims?

bendable (1)

Ratan Gharami (2979397) | 1 year,14 days | (#44244335)

I think the better use for the material is in self healing wires. Stretchable, bendable, maybe even cutable.. then the liquid can re attack to itself. http://equipmentbds.blogspot.com/ [slashdot.org] ">please visit it
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