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by Alexander Fäh

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Revolution in 3D Printing: MIT and UT Austin Develop Chip-Based 3D Printer

  • Innovation in 3D Printing: MIT and UT Austin develop the first chip-based 3D printer.

  • Portable Application: The printer is handheld and allows for quick, customizable object creation.

  • Technological Fusion: Combining silicon photonics and photochemistry to create new possibilities in 3D printing.


New Chip-Based 3D Printer Opens Up Unimaginable Possibilities

The first chip-based 3D printer from MIT and UT Austin enables rapid and portable creation of complex structures.
The first chip-based 3D printer from MIT and UT Austin enables rapid and portable creation of complex structures.

A significant breakthrough in 3D printing was recently announced by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Texas at Austin: the first-ever chip-based 3D printer. This device, which is no larger than a coin, represents a major advancement in portable, rapid, and customizable object creation.

The prototype device is built around a millimeter-scale photonic chip that can project reconfigurable beams of light into a specially formulated resin. This resin solidifies quickly upon exposure to the light, allowing for the rapid formation of complex shapes and structures. The chip uses an array of microscopic optical antennas to steer the light with precision, eliminating the need for traditional moving parts found in conventional 3D printers.

Jelena Notaros, senior author of the paper and Robert J. Shillman Career Development Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, explained, “This system is completely rethinking what a 3D printer is. It is no longer a big box sitting on a bench in a lab creating objects, but something that is handheld and portable. It is exciting to think about the new applications that could come out of this and how the field of 3D printing could change.”

This research represents the culmination of advancements in silicon photonics and photochemistry. Notaros’ team at MIT, previously known for their work on light-steering systems, repurposed this technology to emit and control visible light, ideally suited for the specialized resin developed by UT Austin’s Page Group. Leveraging this technology, they successfully constructed the chip-based 3D printer.

Lead author and EECS graduate student Sabrina Corsetti emphasized the significance of this innovation, stating, “Here, we are meeting in the middle between standard photochemistry and silicon photonics by using visible-light-curable resins and visible-light-emitting chips to create this chip-based 3D printer. You have this merging of two technologies into a completely new idea.”

The potential applications of this technology are very far-reaching. The portable 3D printer could enable on-the-go creation of customized, low-cost items such as fasteners for bicycle repairs or components for medical procedures.

Additionally, the printer could have significant use in enhancing the rapid prototyping process, especially for minor and small parts. More notably, however, the team projects future systems where the photonic chip could emit a 3D hologram of light, curing an entire object in one step, greatly amplifying 3D printing’s efficiency and potential.


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