While most 3D printers are the FFF (fused filament fabrication) type, there are plenty of other kinds on the market. FFF printers are so popular because they’re affordable, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better. You may have even seen printers that create parts by shining light into a vat of resin. Now, scientists from Berkeley Lab have created another liquid 3D printing process, but one that doesn’t use light exposure at all.

The new uses a needle-like extruder to inject water into a container of silicone oil. The water is mixed with gold nanoparticles, and the silicone oil is polymer ligands. During the injection , the gold nanoparticles and the polymer ligands bond to form a barrier between the water and the silicone oil—resulting in a solid, yet flexible, structure.

That structure ends up being a hollow tube, and might have potential for flexible electronics. The process also shares some of the benefits of more traditional resin 3D printers, particularly removing the need for support material. It’s hard to call this revolutionary in its own right, but it certainly has the potential to be a stepping stone towards practical applications.

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