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Amid the maelstrom that is 3D printing, a team of scientists have been busy creating a whole new technology that looks set to put the breakers on printing in the third dimension. That’s right, welcome to 4D printing.

Using ridiculously complex technology we know absolutely nothing about, researchers say they’ve discovered a way to print objects that change their shape over time depending on various environmental elements, such as being fully immersed in water. This incredible development has been heralded as the arrival of 4D printing, on account of the adaptability of the objects over time from one shape to another.

Thus far, scientists have concentrated purely on creating beautiful designs using the 4D printer, as a way to showcase the incredible detail and structural complexity afforded by the technology. But, putting pretty patterns aside, the researchers believe the technology could be used to generate new types of medical implants which fold into shape once within the human body, given the technology’s reaction to temperature change.

Dr Jennifer Lewis, senior researcher at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, who headed up the study, said: “This work represents an elegant advance in programmable materials assembly, made possible by a multidisciplinary approach. We have now gone beyond integrating form and function to create transformable architectures.”

According to the research team, the new technology was inspired by the way in which plants and flowers grow, develop and change over time due to environmental factors like humidity, temperature and moisture levels. Like living organisms, the new ‘hydrogel formula’ creates microscopic structures that change overtime — lending it perfectly to the creation of new implants and devices that mimic natural components.

Sydney Gladman, a research assistant who performed vital work on the study, shone further light on how the new technology works: “Using one composite ink printed in a single step, we can achieve shape-changing hydrogel geometries containing more complexity than any other technique, and we can do so simply by modifying the print path. What’s more, we can interchange different materials to tune for properties such as conductivity or biocompatibility.”

While the arrival of 4D printing is certainly raising excitement among us tech fanatics, most domestic print users are yet to catch up with printing in the third dimension, let alone the fourth.

Until 2D printing bites the dust in the wake of new emerging technologies, shop with TonerGiant to keep your domestic and workplace printing cheap and reliable. We stock a huge range of OEM cartridges from a range of top vendors, as well as our own compatibles. To find out more, visit our homepage or call us on 0845 365 3605.

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