4D printed materials can be rigid like wood or soft like a sponge


Imagine smart materials that can turn from rigid woods to as soft as a sponge – and that also change shape.

Engineers from Rutgers University of New Brunswick have created flexible and lightweight materials with 4D printing that could allow for better shock absorption, aircraft wing or drone processing, soft robotics and tiny implantable biomedical devices. Their research is published in the journal Horizons Materials.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, transforms digital plans into physical objects by building them layer by layer. 4D printing is based on this technology, with one major difference: it uses special materials and sophisticated designs to print objects that change shape depending on environmental conditions, such as temperature, as a trigger, said Lead author Howon Lee, Professor Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Time is the fourth dimension that allows them to transform into a new form.

"We are confident that this unprecedented interaction between materials science, mechanics and 3D printing will create a new path to a wide range of exciting applications that will improve technology, health, safety and security. quality of life, "Lee said.

Engineers have created a new class of "metamaterials" – materials designed to have unusual and counter-intuitive properties that are not found in nature. The word metamaterials is derived from the Greek word "meta" which means "higher" or "beyond".

Previously, the shape and properties of metamaterials were irreversible once manufactured. But Rutgers engineers can adjust their synthetic materials with warmth so that they remain rigid to the touch or soft in sponge to absorb shocks.

The stiffness can be adjusted more than 100 times at temperatures between room temperature (73 degrees) and 194 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows for excellent control of shock absorption. The materials can be remodeled for a wide variety of uses. They can be transformed temporarily into any deformed shape and then found on demand in their original form when they are heated.

This video on YouTube shows how smart materials printed in 4D can go from rigidity to flexibility and changing shape. Video of Chen Yang / Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

The materials can be used in aircraft or drone wings that change shape to improve performance, as well as in light structures collapsed for space launches and reformed in space for a larger structure, such as a solar panel.

Soft robots made from flexible, soft and chewy Octopus-inspired materials may have varying flexibility or rigidity, adapted to the environment and the tasks at hand. Tiny devices inserted or implanted into people for diagnostic or treatment purposes could be temporarily made flexible and flexible for minimally invasive and less painful insertion into the body, Lee said.


The main author of the study is Chen Yang, PhD student at Lee's lab. The co-authors are Manish Boorugu, Andrew Dopp, Ren Jie, Raymond Martin and Daehoon Han – all current and former students of Rutgers – and Professor Wonjoon Choi of Korea University.

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