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4D Printing: Shapeshifting Architectures

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A team at the Wyss Institute and Harvard SEAS has developed a new microscale printing method to create transformable objects. These “4D-printed” objects go a step beyond 3D printing to incorporate a fourth dimension: time.

The method was inspired by the way plants change shape over time in response to environmental stimuli. This orchid-shaped structure is printed with a hydrogel composite ink containing aligned cellulose fibrils, which enable anisotropic swelling. A proprietary mathematical model developed by the team precisely predicts how the fibrils will swell in water.

After printing, the 4D orchid is immersed in water to activate its shape transformation.

Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

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