Move over plastics: Scientists demonstrate 3D printing with liquid metal

3D printers may soon have a new material with which to print that’s stronger than the plastics they typically use, able to conduct electricity and, well, cool: liquid metal.

A team of scientists at North Carolina State University have demonstrated a technique that could be used to print objects made with the material, an alloy of gallium and indium that is liquid at room temperature. Using a syringe filled with liquid metal, the team “printed” wires and small, free-standing structures composed of balls of the material. When exposed to air, liquid metal forms a thin but hard shell that can support the still liquid interior.

Don’t get your hopes up too high: You won’t be printing the “liquid metal” T-1000 robot from “Terminator 2” anytime soon. But the material could be used in the not-too-distant future in semiconductors and flexible electronics. According to the scientists, their syringe technique is directly translatable to 3D printing.

But it will come at a cost: The new material is about 100 times more expensive than the plastics typically used in 3D printing, according to New Scientist.

 

Image courtesy of Michael Dickey/North Carolina State University.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (256 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.