Light Rays 3D Print Amazing, Tiny Glass Objects

Useful Applications For Glass Geometries

Over at UC Berkeley in California, developers were able to 3D print microstructures made of glass in a speedier, of higher quality strength and flexibility. It’s a new method in conjunction with the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany that the partnership was able to print in glass. The much finer features were a result of the process called computed axial lithography or CAL. They called the new system ‘micro-CAL’.

When creating complex microscopic models, such as lenses for high-end cameras, smartphones, and medical endoscopes, glass is usually the favored material to 3D print. Currently available methods of manufacturing these objects are quite expensive and time-consuming to produce, as well as slow to meet the industry’s soaring demands. They also result in rough surface textures. However, the CAL process features smooth surfaces and complex geometries, requiring no layers. CAL prints the entire object simultaneously. A laser is used to project patterns of light into a rotating volume of light-sensitive material, building up a 3D ‘light dose’ that solidifies in the desired shape.

The CAL process first came to light in 2019, printing microscale features up to a third of a millimeter in size, but micro-CAL can print objects in polymers with features down to about 20 millionths of a meter, or use glass, this time up to about 50 millionths of a meter.

To print the glass, a resin material containing nanoparticles of glass surrounded by a light-sensitive binder liquid is subjected to digital light projections from the printer to solidify the binder, then the printed object is heated to remove the binder and fuse the particles together into a solid object of pure glass that does not break easily.

What are the useful applications of the CAL 3D-printing method? Firstly, it can meet customer requirements for geometry, size and optical and mechanical properties. Manufacturers of microscopic optical components of compact cameras, virtual reality headsets, advanced microscopes and other scientific instruments, like microfluidic channels for research and medical diagnostics, can find potential in the new micro-CAL method. This research was published in Science.

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