This New Material May Make 3D-Printed Nerve Cells a Reality
Aug 12, 2015
3D printing is one of the most innovative technologies out there right now. These mini-factories started out over 20 years ago building plastic models and have since taken the world by storm producing everything from parts for robots and spaceships, to living organs. The only limit to what people can print up in their homes and laboratories is the material that they are able to print with.
A new, innovative company, Graphene 3D Lab Inc, is adding one more tool to the toolbox by introducing a graphene filament to the market in March of this year.
Graphene was first discovered by scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in Manchester University. In 2010 they won the Nobel Prize for using adhesive tape to lift ever-thinner layers from a block of graphite. Eventually they were able to arrive at a layer of graphite that was just atoms thick, a virtual 2-dimensional sheet of graphite that is known as graphene.
They found that graphene was one of the most amazing materials we know of. Not only is it 100 times stronger than diamonds and 300 times stronger than steel, it is flexible and nearly transparent. While its strength is virtually unsurpassed, it also conducts electricity faster than any known material at room temperature.
It is these condctive properties that Graphene 3D Lab is so excited about. Graphene 3D COO Dr. Elena Polyakova recently discussed graphene’s applications in advanced composites at the 4th Graphite & Graphene Conference in Berlin, Germany where she discussed the commercial applications of her companies new technology
The biggest challenge that she will face is in bringing the cost of graphene down to levels that most people can afford. Because of the technology required to manufacture graphene, it is still one of the most expensive material on earth, costing about $100,000 per square meter. Most researchers expect a Moore’s-law reduction in the cost of the material that should bring it to the common market within a matter of decades, if not years.
The first steps to bringing this costs down may be Graphene Labs work on a technique to convert graphite flakes into graphene oxide by oxidizing them. They then use printers with multiple extrudes, some filled with polymers that have been infused with the graphene oxide and others with conventional polymers to fabricate functional electronic devices.
3D printers have already been able to print basic electrical devices with mixed materials including plastics, metal and nylon, but they have been limited in the complexity that they have been able to achieve. This is due to the difficulty in mixing different types of material. To print with plastics is a much different process than to print with metals.
The advantage of this new technique is that they both use a polymer based material to print the conductive and non-conductive materials in the object. This allows a much higher degree of integration between the components as well as opens the door to shapes and forms that would otherwise be impossible.
3D printing labs around the world have immediately started dreaming up applications for the new conductive material, including batteries and basic electronic devices. But, some of the most exciting applications of the technology may be found in medical applications.
A recent article from Nano Werk suggests, “that the unique physical, electrical, and biological properties of 3DG (3D-printed graphene) could open the door to addressing a variety of medical problems requiring the regeneration of damaged, degenerated, or otherwise non-functional electrogenic tissues such as nerves, bone, or skeletal and cardiac muscle.”
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