Direct printing of functional 3D objects using polymerization-induced phase separation

Nat Commun. 2021 Jan 4;12(1):55. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-20256-3.


3D printing has enabled materials, geometries and functional properties to be combined in unique ways otherwise unattainable via traditional manufacturing techniques, yet its adoption as a mainstream manufacturing platform for functional objects is hindered by the physical challenges in printing multiple materials. Vat polymerization offers a polymer chemistry-based approach to generating smart objects, in which phase separation is used to control the spatial positioning of materials and thus at once, achieve desirable morphological and functional properties of final 3D printed objects. This study demonstrates how the spatial distribution of different material phases can be modulated by controlling the kinetics of gelation, cross-linking density and material diffusivity through the judicious selection of photoresin components. A continuum of morphologies, ranging from functional coatings, gradients and composites are generated, enabling the fabrication of 3D piezoresistive sensors, 5G antennas and antimicrobial objects and thus illustrating a promising way forward in the integration of dissimilar materials in 3D printing of smart or functional parts.