4D Printing

Three formations of 3D printed plastic that begins curl up as it is immersed in water.

Categories: Materials

13 November 2014


3D printing has been all the rage this year, with weird and wonderful applications from bone replacement to full-scale houses. There seems to be no limit to what 3D printing can achieve as it continues to revolutionise the world of design, manufacture and engineering. If you're a 3D printing lover, then you'll be happy to know that its cooler, younger sibling is on its way: the 4D printer. If you’re squinting your eyes and frowning trying to imagine what a fourth dimension might look like then you’re doing it wrong, because it isn’t a spatial dimension: it’s time.

Researchers at MIT’s Self Assembly Lab are working on technologies that allow for materials to self-assemble and move after being printed. One-dimensional strands are being programmed to curl up and form 2D and 3D shapes, when immersed in water. The research is still in its initial phases, but programmable materials are set to transform the way we live. Just imagine how many relationships could be saved if we started making self-assembling furniture.

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