Caltech advances its research into 3D printed metals at the nanoscale.


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When it comes to 3D printing, attention to detail is key. Even the smallest imperfections can make a difference in the success or failure of a printed object. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have recently made a groundbreaking discovery that could revolutionize 3D printing in the nanoscale.

Led by Professor Julia R. Greer, the team at Caltech has developed a new technique for 3D printing metals that are much stronger than similarly sized parts. This breakthrough could have significant implications for industries such as aerospace and medical engineering, where the strength and durability of components are of utmost importance.

Building upon previous experiments in 2022, Greer’s lab has now developed a fabrication process for printing micro-sized metal objects that are as thin as a few pieces of paper. In their most recent study, the team has taken their work to the nano-scale, shrinking the 3D printed parts to a thousandth of the size of their previous experiments.

What they found was surprising. The smaller the print, the more disorderly the materials appeared on the atomic scale. In a normal-sized construction, this disorder would be considered a flaw, leading to a weaker structure. However, in the nanoscale, the disorderly arrangement of materials actually resulted in parts that were three to five times stronger than those with a more ordered atomic structure.

The fabrication process involves a mixture of hydrogel, a water-absorbing polymer, which is shaped with a laser. The photosensitive material hardens into the desired shapes, and metal ions of nickel are introduced through a liquid solution. The metal is absorbed by the hydrogel shape and then heat is applied to burn away the hydrogel, leaving only the metal behind. In the final step, any oxygen is removed or converted through a chemical stripping process, leaving behind irregularities in the metal structure.

These irregularities, which are usually considered weaknesses in larger structures, actually contribute to the added strength of the nanoscale objects. They form a reinforcing boundary that allows the material to move and distribute deformations evenly, preventing it from breaking.

The implications of this research are vast. The increased durability of 3D printed metal in the nanoscale opens up new avenues for study and innovation. Professor Greer and her team are hopeful that this discovery will lead to practical applications in various industries.

The findings from this study provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of nanoscale structures, which are invisible to the naked eye. Caltech’s research into nanoscale 3D printed metal has the potential to revolutionize industries and push the boundaries of what is possible with 3D printing.

What do you think of this research? Let us know in the comments or on our social media pages. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest 3D printing news.

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“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”


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Meet the mastermind behind NozzleNerds.com: GCode-Guru, a 3D printing wizard whose filament collection rivals their sock drawer. Here to demystify 3D tech with a mix of expert advice, epic fails, and espresso-fueled rants. If you've ever wondered how to print your way out of a paper bag (or into a new coffee cup), you're in the right place. Dive into the world of 3D printing with us—where the only thing more abundant than our prints is our sarcasm.

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