3D printed glass lattices, displayed in front of a U.S. penny for scale. (Credit: Joseph Toombs)

Researchers have developed a new way to 3D print glass microstructures that is faster and produces objects with higher optical quality, design flexibility, and strength. They expanded the capabilities of computed axial lithography (CAL) to print much finer features and to print in glass. They dubbed this new system “micro-CAL.”

Glass is the preferred material for creating complex microscopic objects, including lenses in endoscopes, as well as microfluidic devices used to analyze or process minute amounts of liquid. To print the glass, the team collaborated with scientists who have developed a special resin material containing nanoparticles of glass surrounded by a lightsensitive binder liquid. Digital light projections from the printer solidify the binder, then the researchers heat the printed object to remove the binder and fuse the particles together into a solid object of pure glass.

The CAL 3D printing method offers manufacturers of microscopic glass objects a new and more efficient way to meet customers’ demanding requirements for geometry, size, and optical and mechanical properties. Specifically, this includes manufacturers of microscopic optical components.

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