(Nanowerk News) Researchers have 3D printed the world’s smallest wine glass—virtually indistinguishable to the naked eye—with a rim smaller than the width of a human hair. But the idea isn’t to serve very light drinkers. Instead, the glass was printed to demonstrate a new, simplified technique for fabricating silica glass structures for applications ranging from telecommunications to robotics.
Developed at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the new technique overcomes complications—such as the need for heat treatment—when printing important silica glass components by 3D printing, says KTH Professor Frank Niklaus.
This research was published in Nature Communications (“Three-dimensional printing of silica glass with sub-micrometer resolution”).
Niklaus says it could be used for special lenses for medical machines performing minimally invasive surgeries, microrobots navigating extreme environments, or filters and couplers for fiber optic networks, to name but a few applications.
One of the fiber optic filters was produced in this study. The researchers demonstrated that the technique could print the device directly at the end of an optical fiber as thin as a human hair.
“The backbone of the internet is based on optical fibers which are made of glass. In such systems, all kinds of filters and couplers are required which can now be 3D printed with our technique,” said co-author Kristinn Gylfason, associate professor of Micro and Nano Systems at KTH. “This opens up a lot of new possibilities.”
This method drastically reduces the energy required to 3D print silica glass, which normally requires heating the material to several hundred degrees for hours, said the study’s lead author, Po-Han Huang, a doctoral student at KTH. “The advantage of our method is that no heat treatment is required and the glass can withstand extreme heat in applications.”
Another benefit, he says, is that this method can produce silica glass using commercially available materials.
Eliminating the need for heat treatment increases the possibility of this technique being widely used in a variety of application scenarios, he said. “The concerns when integrating 3D printing methods are usually different for different applications. While optimization of our method is still required for different applications, we believe our method presents an important and necessary breakthrough for 3D glass printing to be used in practical scenarios.”
So how about those wine glasses? Is it really the smallest in the world? After all, people are already 3D printing many demonstration objects, such as statues and car models. Niklaus says the difference is that this demo is on glass. “Obviously nobody has 3D printed wine glasses that are made up of printed glasses,” he said.