Researchers just developed a new method of 3D printing molecular components with color-changing ability. This breakthrough means that reversible information storage is now within reach.

3D printing technology is at a stage where we can’t keep up with all the new frontiers and opportunities it’s opening up.

Experimental 3D printers can fabricate objects that change shape and even color to fit specific uses, like Rutgers University’s shape-shifting smart gel, or human-like objects that can walk underwater and grab things.

Read More: New Voxel-Based 3D Printing Method Creates Ultra High-Definition Objects

Now, researchers have succeeded a demonstration that proves the viability of 3D-printed photochromic materials.

Reversible Information Storage With 3D-Printable Photochromic Molecules

A team of engineers and chemists from the University of Nottingham have devised a 3D printable molecular material that changes color in response to external stimuli, like light.

The study was led by Dr. Graham Newton and Dr. Victor Sans Sangorrin, from the School of Chemistry and the Faculty of Engineering at UoN.

“This bottom-up approach to device fabrication will push the boundaries of additive manufacturing like never before,” says Dr. Sans. “Our approach expands the toolbox of advanced materials available to engineers developing devices for real-world problems.”  

The researchers began with the creation of photoactive molecules that go from colorless to blue under the action of light.

To reverse this color change, the molecules are simply exposed to oxygen in the ambient air.

The second step involved the integration via 3D printing of these photochromic molecules in composite materials using a custom-made polymer.

The result is a new material capable of storing information in a reversible way.

“We can now take any molecules that change properties upon exposure to light and print them into composites with almost any shape or size. In theory, it would be possible to reversibly encode something quite complex like a QR code or a barcode, and then wipe the material clean, almost like cleaning a whiteboard with an eraser. While our devices currently operate using color changes, this approach could be used to develop materials for energy storage and electronics,” said Dr. Newton.

With this breakthrough, 3D printing goes deep into the molecular world to increase its functional capabilities and make reversible information storage possible.

The demonstration provides a blueprint for 3D-printed photochromic devices with potential applications in industries such as quantum computing, electronics, and healthcare.

What applications do you see for these new 3D-printed photochromic devices

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