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Hybrid nanoparticles as photoinitiators. a. Electron microscope image of hybrid nanocrystal. The inset shows a schematic of semiconductor nanorod with a metal tip. b. Bucky ball structure produced by rapid 3D printing in water using HNPs as photoinitiators. c. Spiral printed with HNPs by two photon printer providing high resolution features. Adapted with permission from Pawar et al., Nano Lett. DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b01870. (Credit: American Chemical Society.)

A new type of photoinitiator for 3D printing in water could allow for the creation of biofriendly 3D printed structures. 3D printing in water opens exciting opportunities for tailored fabrication of medical devices and for printing scaffolds for tissue engineering. For example, the researchers envision personalized fabrication of joint replacements, bone plates, heart valves, artificial tendons and ligaments, and other artificial organ replacements.

3D printing has become an important tool for fabricating different organic based materials for a variety of industries. However, printing structures in water has always been challenging due to a lack of water soluble molecules known as photoinitiators — the molecules that induce chemical reactions necessary to form solid printed material by light. 3D printing in water also offers an environmentally friendly approach to additive manufacturing, which could replace the current technology of printing in organic based inks.

Unlike regular photoinitiators, these novel hybrid nanoparticles present tunable properties, wide excitation window in the UV and visible range, high light sensitivity, and function by a unique photocatalytic mechanism that increases printing efficiency while reducing the amount of materials required to create the final product. The whole process can also be used in advanced polymerization modalities, such as two-photon printers, which allows it to produce high-resolution features.

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