Researchers Build 3-D Structures Out of Liquid Metal


Researchers from North Carolina State University have reportedly developed three-dimensional (3-D) printing technology and techniques to create free-standing objects made of liquid metal at room temperature.

Researchers have developed three-dimensional structures out of liquid metal. Image: Michael Dickey.

The technique is said to be able to take 3D Printing to the next stage, whereby users could have the ability to 3-D print electronic products with circuits and wires.

“It’s difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up. But we’ve found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a ‘skin’ that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes,” says Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

According to a statement from the University, the researchers developed multiple techniques for creating these structures, which can be used to connect electronic components in three dimensions.

‘White it is relatively straightforward to pattern the metal “in plane” – meaning all on the same level – these liquid metal structures can also form shapes that reach up or down,’  NC.

As seen in the video below, one technique involves stacking droplets of liquid metal on top of each other, ‘much like a stack of oranges at the supermarket.’

Dickey’s team is currently hard at work exploring how to further develop techniques, as well as how to use them in various electronics applications and in conjunction with established 3-D printing technologies.



The paper, “3-D Printing of Free Standing Liquid Metal Microstructures,” is published online in Advanced Materials. Ladd, a recent NC State graduate, is lead author. Co-authors are Dickey; former NC State Ph.D. student Dr. Ju-Hee So; and Dr. John Muth, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State.