New 3-D printing method could jump-start creation of tiny medical devices for the body

NIST scientists get soft on 3D printing
Illustration of a prospective biocompatible interface shows that hydrogels (green tubing), which can be generated by an electron or X-ray beam 3D-printing process, act as artificial synapses or junctions, connecting neurons (brown) to electrodes (yellow). Credit: A. Strelcov/NIST

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new method of 3-D-printing gels and other soft materials. Published in a new paper, it has the potential to create complex structures with nanometer-scale precision. Because many gels are compatible with living cells, the new method could jump-start the production of soft tiny medical devices such as drug delivery systems or flexible electrodes that can be inserted into the human body.

A standard 3-D printer makes solid structures by creating sheets of material—typically plastic or rubber—and building them up layer by layer, like a lasagna, until the entire object is created.

Using a 3-D printer to fabricate an object

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