North Carolina, US: Printers go from plastic to liquid metal.
The brutal liquid metal assassin from “Terminator 2” is impressed indelibly on the memory of any action movie fan. But that shape-shifting chrome T-1000 is just a fantasy, right? Well, yes, but a cool technique of building tiny items with liquid metal is definitely a step in that direction.
It’ll be a while before a robot can be created that can be sent back in time, but the researchers at North Carolina State University have found a novel form of 3-D printing that uses a special metal alloy that’s totally liquid at room temperature.
The gallium-indium alloy can be squeezed out of a tiny syringe, and when it comes in contact with the air, it instantly develops an oxide “skin” that acts like a bag keeping the rest inside.
“The drops are like miniature water balloons,” wrote professor Michael Dickey in an email to NBC News. “Metals have appealing electrical, thermal, and optical properties — so the ability to pattern it in 3D may have other applications that go beyond these.”
By stacking the droplets, they can build tiny structures like the Eiffel Tower-esque creation in the video above, or make more complicated shapes by stretching and manipulating those drops. And because it is conductive, it can also be laid down on circuit boards like solder — though it would be more like frosting a cake. While it’s an interesting material and process, it’s not quite a miracle (or Terminator) just yet.–NN