3D printing a space rocket (Day 338)

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have shared many chemical engineering good news stories about space: the final frontier.

From chemical engineers who also happen to be astronauts (see my blog ‘A path to the stars‘) to chemical engineers developing technology to power a lunar space mission with poo, and even chemical engineers who have created a template for extra-terrestrial life. It’s clear to see that chemical engineering is not limited to just planet Earth.

space rocket3D printing has also featured substantially throughout #ChemEng365. Whilst not synonymous with the chemical and process industries, I have still shared chemical engineering stories on ‘Deep sea printers‘, ‘The affordable kidney‘ and ‘Breakthrough in 3D printing inspired by the Terminator‘.

So you can imagine my delight when I happened across a piece of news that combined space exploration and 3D printing. Researchers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, US, have successfully printed a space rocket engine part that can function at both extremely high and low temperatures.

Continue reading 3D printing a space rocket (Day 338)

Breakthrough in 3D printing inspired by the Terminator (Day 314)

3D printing is a misnomer; it is actually 2D printing over and over again.

Most 3D printing occurs by building up objects layer-by-layer. However, Carbon3D Inc has developed a new method that allows objects to rise continuously from a liquid media.

Joseph M. DeSimone, professor of chemical engineering at NC State University, US, and of chemistry at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, US, is currently CEO of Carbon3D.

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.

chromeJoe 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?

Continue reading Breakthrough in 3D printing inspired by the Terminator (Day 314)

‘Hand-made’ pills inspired by a starfish (Day 153)

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.

StarfishAnother 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.

Continue reading ‘Hand-made’ pills inspired by a starfish (Day 153)

The affordable kidney (Day 117)

Human kidneysIf 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.

Continue reading The affordable kidney (Day 117)

Electronic bugging of the water variety (Day 79)

Water testing
Current water monitoring can be costly, time-consuming and require technical expertise.

Sharing new technology and developments, and making sure there is greater equality in its use across the world, requires political commitment.

But, arguably, making technological advancements that are affordable, especially for developing countries, is essential if it is to be deployed on a global scale.

So, I was really encouraged to read a story this week about something important to all of us – a new lower cost way of testing for water pollution and checking the quality of drinking water.

Continue reading Electronic bugging of the water variety (Day 79)

Stronger 3D printing (Day 7)

3D letter ball3D printing has made mainstream news in recent years and there are regular reports of fascinating products being produced by this quickly developing technology.

Last week there was a story about researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht experimenting using stem cells in 3D bio-printing. The result could be 3D printed body parts.

The materials used in 3D printing are important to the whole process.

Continue reading Stronger 3D printing (Day 7)