Nanoparticle inks can turn your existing 2D printer into a circuit board production line – and the possibilities for 3D printers are mind-boggling
Printing foldable mobile phones on a sheet of paper from a normal 2D printer is just a decade away, according to Jürgen Steimle, head of the Embodied Interaction Group at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany. Steimle and his colleagues took a step towards this in 2013, when they used a standard printer loaded with nanoparticle ink to print a paper circuit that works even after the sheet is torn.
In the past couple of years, similar applications have popped up in laboratories around the world. "People are starting to realise the power of printing," says Vincent Rotello, a chemist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is working on a printable test strip for pathogenic bacteria in water.
The convergence of nano and printing is partially due to the success of one eye-grabbing device, the 3D printer, which produces objects to a three-dimensional template by extruding soft plastic noodles that rapidly consolidate into the shape of the desired object. Scientists are now adding nanoparticles to the plastic, thereby giving these products "smart" properties, but the humble 2D printer, which is far more commonplace, is being revitalised by nanoparticle ink.