human eye

3D Printed Bionic Eye: No Longer Science Fiction

The Eye of the Future

We have always been fascinated with popular lores of humans with robotic or bionic parts manifesting super powers. It’s the stuff that science fiction is made of. However, seriously, a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota has made the first step toward creating a “bionic eye” that could someday help blind people see or sighted people see better. They were able to fully 3D-print an array of light receptors on a hemispherical surface.

With a hemispherical glass dome, the researchers used their custom-built 3D printer, starting with a base ink of silver particles to dispense ink that stayed in place and dried uniformly instead of running down the curved surface. Using semiconducting polymer materials to print photodiodes, these convert light into electricity. The entire process takes about an hour and surprisingly, there was 25 percent efficiency in converting the light into electricity which they achieved with the fully 3D-printed semiconductors.

The team is proud to say that their 3D-printed semiconductors are now starting to show that they could potentially rival the efficiency of semiconducting devices fabricated in microfabrication facilities. Besides, they also proved that unlike those facilities, they can easily print a semiconducting device on a curved surface.

The University of Minnesota team are known for integrating 3D printing, electronics, and biology on a single platform. They received international attention a few years ago for printing a “bionic ear.” They have 3D-printed life-like artificial organs for surgical practice, electronic fabric that could serve as “bionic skin,” electronics directly on a moving hand, and cells and scaffolds that could help people living with spinal cord injuries regain some function.

For the bionic eye, the next steps are to create a prototype with more light receptors that are even more efficient. They might also find a way to print on a soft hemispherical material that can be implanted into a real eye. The research is published in Advanced Materials, a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering materials science.

Looking to the Future in Seattle

The future of 3D printing is towards amazing possibilities in many field applications, especially in medicine. While we might not be printing bionic eyes yet, for your other medical- related needs, see us at 3D Composites in Seattle for a sit-down on your next bright idea.