Joe co-invented this new method with colleagues Alex Ermoshkin, chief technology officer at Carbon3D and Edward T. Samulski, also professor of chemistry at UNC.
Joe says that this idea was inspired by the Hollywood film, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. In this film, the T-1000 robot rises from a liquid metal puddle to assume its form. This made Joe and his team think – why can’t we create objects in this way?
I’ve blogged a few times over the past five months about 3D printing. It’s one of those technological developments which has attracted the attention of chemical engineers, despite some apparent anomalies.
Our profession spends much of its time producing items on a massive scale. We deal in huge volumes which provide food, energy, water and healthcare to hundreds of millions of people.
By contrast, 3D-printing operates in small numbers – even ones and twos. In fact, I think 3D-printing is synonymous with the phrase ‘hand-made’ – unique, custom-designed, high quality and carefully crafted. Who knows, 3D printing may herald the end of some traditional skills.
Another fascinating feature of 3D-printing is its ability to produce or mimic things we find difficult. An example is the shell of a starfish.
Echinoderm sea creatures such as brittle stars have ordered rounded structures on their bodies that work as lenses to gather light into their rudimentary eyes. Under the microscope, the shell looks like little hot air balloons that are rising from the surface.
If ever you try to explain what a chemical engineer does, comparing it to human anatomy may not be your first choice. But there are some useful analogies, for instance the kidney.
The main role of the kidneys is to filter waste products from the blood and convert them to urine. If the kidneys lose this ability, waste products can build up, which is potentially dangerous and can be life threatening.
It’s a principle used widely by chemical engineers to manage all kinds of human and industrial waste.
I think the relationship between chemical engineers and human anatomy is set to become more common over the next few years, and will improve the quality of life for millions of people.