Researchers have 3D printed a complex, porous lattice structure using liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), creating devices that can finally mimic cartilage and other biological tissues. LCEs are soft, multifunctional materials that are known for their elasticity and extraordinary ability to dissipate high energy.
The team developed a honey-like LC resin that, when hit with ultraviolet light, cures — forming new bonds in a succession of thin photopolymer layers. The final cured resin forms a soft, strong, and compliant elastomer. When printed in lattice structures — levels of patterning akin to a honeycomb — that’s when it began to mimic cartilage.
The group printed several structures, including a prototype of a spinal fusion cage, creating the largest LCE device with the most detail. The combination of the resin and printing process also led to 12 times greater rate-dependence and up to 27 times greater strain–energy dissipation compared to those printed from a commercially available photocurable elastomer resin.
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