Nanyang Technological University researchers 3D printed a sunflower which blooms in sunlight, even after being forced into a bud shape.
Researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, have developed a 3D printed sunflower. However, rather than being a yellow, plastic garden decoration, the flower actually blooms in sunlight.
The way it works is by using a shape-memory polymer and a special material called “carbon black with high photothermal conversion efficiency” which absorbs light then converts it into heat.
After soaking up the sun’s rays the flower opens up, but will also form a bud in the absence of heat – just like a real sunflower. Amazingly, under the right conditions of ultraviolet rays, it takes just five minutes to bloom.
However, don’t mistake this invention for yet another fun yet rather useless design. The researchers believe the flower is a working example for how 3D printed devices could respond to different stimuli, including light and humidity.
Leading the researcher was the director of the Innovative Centre for Flexible Devices at NTU, Professor Chen Xiaodong. He said: “This could mean smart solar cells that turn automatically towards the sun.”
3D printing made it possible to create this sunflower and Xiaodong is already hoping to build on these findings, using the technology for further, similar designs. For example, he intends on creating smart solar cells. This design involves integrating shape-memory polymers with existing solar cells.
As well as this, he believes the technology can be used to develop stents for surgery. To do this, the stent, or splint, would need to be deformed, inserted and then expanded using infrared light. Its benefits include offering a simpler way to enter a clogged blood vessel.
However, Xiaodong notes the main problem he currently faces. He explains: “The big bottleneck is still materials as few can be 3D printed… But the concept is there… which can be used by different people and applied to their own systems. That is the beauty of research.”
Want to find out more about Xiaodong’s work? A paper, published in June, can be read in the journal Advanced Materials.
Source: The Straits Times