3D printing through live sound could print implants into the body

Concordia University researchers have developed a new technological platform that uses ultrasonic waves to create complex and precise objects. Researchers have successfully used sound to solidify a liquid into plastic. This so-called direct sound 3D printing could make it possible in the future to produce implants directly in the body.

With Direct Sound Printing (DSP), ultra-high-frequency sound waves are focused onto a point of liquid resin for just a trillionth of a second. This brief but powerful concentration leads to the formation of a tiny bubble, which in turn has enough energy to start a chemical reaction that solidifies the resin. Most of the 3D printing processes currently in use rely on reactions activated by either light or heat, which allows polymers to be precisely manipulated. This new method of 3D printing could therefore offer a third way to create new objects. Professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy, corresponding author of the research report, commented:

“Ultrasound frequencies are already being used in destructive procedures such as laser ablation. We wanted to use them to create something.”

What is live sound 3D printing?

Solid 3D printing relies on chemical reactions caused by pressure fluctuations in tiny bubbles suspended in a liquid polymer solution. The researchers found that by using a specific type of ultrasound at a specific frequency and power, they could create highly localized and highly concentrated chemically reactive regions. The reactions elicited in the microvesicles by the vibrations induced by the ultrasonic waves are violent, even if they last only a few picoseconds. Temperatures there reach a pressure of about 1,000 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level and about 15,000 degrees Celsius. The reaction time is so short that the surrounding material is not affected by the resulting high temperatures.

Concordia University researchers experimented with a polymer called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which is already used in additive manufacturing. Using a transducer, they created an ultrasonic field that penetrates the body to selectively solidify the liquid resin and deposit it onto a previously solidified slab mold or other object. The transducer moves along a given path, creating the desired object pixel by pixel. Live Sound 3D printing could open up new, previously unimaginable possibilities for additive manufacturing. Sound can penetrate solid bodies or devices, which offers the possibility of making implants directly in the body, rather than surgically inserting implants made externally. For example, researcher Mohsen Habib claims that the DSP method introduces the possibility of a non-invasive impression into the depths of the body.

Graphical representation of the process (Image credit: Nature Communications)

Versatile applications

The versatility of this 3D printing process could benefit industries that rely on very specific and sensitive equipment. For example, DSP could be used in aerospace engineering and repair as ultrasonic waves penetrate opaque surfaces such as metal hulls. This could allow maintenance crews to service parts deep within an aircraft’s fuselage that are otherwise difficult to reach. DSP technology could also have medical applications and be used to imprint implants or similar into the bodies of humans and animals. Watch the video below to learn more about the topic, or download the Nature Communications article HERE.

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