We’ve heard of 3D printers. But, what about 4D printers? Four-dimensional printing doesn’t mean that the printer produces a science fiction movie full of real-time sensations. Current 4D printing technology focuses on the manufacturing of printable materials that have the ability, throughout time, to shapeshift autonomously in response to very particular conditions of heat, water or pressure. In certain circumstances they can revert to their original state over time.
At the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) of the University of Wollongong, Australia, Professor Marc in het Panhuis and his team have devised a printable hydrogel that is both resilient and sturdy enough to change again and again in response to the presence of hot water. Employing this polymer, Panhuis’s team has designed a 4D-printed valve that closes to cut off 99% of water flow when exposed to hot water. Independent of human intervention, the gel device shrinks to 50% of its volume when it reaches a temperature of 35° C. The valve reopens once the water cools.
Although this technology is very recent, it promises revolutionary advances in the manufacture of devices and materials subject to extreme conditions, such as pipes that bend instead of breaking during an earthquake or a hurricane.