The possibilities are endless when it comes to 3D printing, form spider robots to prosthetics for ducks. Researchers at North Carolina State University took the technology one step further with the discovery of a method for printing liquid metal.
Michael Dickey and his team used a mixture of gallium and indium alloy, which remains liquid at room temperature. When the metal makes contact with air, it develops a thin skin that is strong enough to hold the liquid’s shape.
As of now, Dickey and his team are using a syringe to squeeze the alloy out and create shapes with it. The droplets can be easily arranged; the researchers created simple figures by aligning the drops in bead-chains that managed to stand upright.
“The fact that they are liquid means you could surround them with another material like rubber to make metallic structures that you can stretch and deform,” Dickey explained in an interview with New Scientist.
The next step would be to swap the syringe with the nozzle of a 3D printer, which could open up the possibility of creating bendable electronics, since the metal is non-toxic and should be cleared for commercial use.
However, the liquid metal certainly isn’t cheap. According to New Scientist, the mixture will be about 100 times as expensive as 3D-printed plastic.