There has been quite a lot of researches conducted earlier aiming to reveal what exactly is possible for 3D printing of electronic devices but the Princeton University researchers have now used LED 3D printer to create a contact lens that could print quantum dot LEDs, i.e. Princeton’s LED 3D printing technique integrates standard contact lens with tiny LEDs (light-emitting diodes) creating a device with which beams of colored lights can be projected.
This lens made of hard plastic is unsuitable for wearing while also the QLEDs require external power supply. However, the success of this lens is that it demonstrates the practicability of 3D-printed electronics into complex shapes for creating fully understood devices.
According to Michael McAlpine, Assistant Professor – Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University’s McAlpine Research Group, this research has shown them how complex electronics could be created by using 3D printing, things like semiconductors. They achieved in 3D printing an entire device which in this case was LEDs.
The Making of the Bionic Eye:
Here the researches have used tiny crystals namely quantum dots (also referred as nanoparticles) like an ink to create LEDs that were able to generate the colored beam of lights. By using different sizes of these quantum dots different colored lights can be generated.
The QLEDs are printed in a sequence of five layers by the 3D printer. The bottom layer is a ring made of silver nanoparticles which for mechanical circuit acts as a metal conduit. This is then followed by two polymer layers for supplying and transferring electrical current to the then layer which is made of cadmium selenide nanoparticles. Final and the top layer made of eutectic gallium indium serves as the cathode.
McAlpine feels that the conventional microelectronics industry is doing well by creating electronic gadgets that are 2D printed, but what is got from 3D printing is something that people have still not imagined – it is all about third dimension output, 3D structures that the body could use.
This Bionic Eye lens from the Princeton team is not something new but a continuation of the team’s work in the same area. The team last year created bionic ear – 3D printed ear, living cells with an antenna for receiving radio signals. But with the lens the team had quite different challenges to be overcome, 3D printing to be done in diverse materials which have inherent incompatibilities mainly temperature sensitivities that were different.
The researchers in this case, for customizing 3-D print electronics on a contact lens first scanned the lens and then fed back the geometric information into the printer. By doing this the LED got 3-D printed on the contact lens.
With the estimated cost of this printer to be around $20,000, the project along with McAlpine, Ian Tamargo (assistance of chemistry graduate), Hyoungsoo Kim (fluid dynamics expert), Barry Rand (Assistant Professor of electrical engineering) also involved postdoctoral researchers Maneesh Gupta, Blake Johnson and Tae-Wook Koh with Huai-An Chin, a graduate student.
What 3-D printing can actually do?
The researchers admit that this way of 3-D printing cannot actually replace the traditional way of manufacturing lot of electronics anytime soon. But it might turn out to be complementary technologies with different strengths. Electronics manufactured in the traditional way use lithography for the electronic components to be created which is an efficient and fast way to get multiple copies along with very high reliability.
In the case of 3-D print manufacturing which is slow but is change oriented where customizing becomes easy to get molds and patterns created as desired. 3-D printing requires primarily situations that need flexibility. For instance, it becomes practically impossible for traditional manufacturing techniques to be in favor of creating medical devices that have to be implanted in a patient’s body with particular shape and devices that need the blending of unusual materials.
It is expected that the team in future will be working on the feasibility of other 3D-printed electronics like transistors.
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