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U Colorado Boulder Researchers Develop 4D Print Process

University of Colorado Boulder researchers have developed a new process for 4D printing wherein composite materials "self assemble" into 3D structures. The method calls for integrating "shape memory" polymer fibers into composite materials used in conventional 3D printing.

"In this work, the initial configuration is created by 3D printing, and then the programmed action of the shape memory fibers creates time dependence of the configuration – the 4D aspect," said Martin Dunn, associate provost of research at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, in a statement from the institution. Dunn, who formerly served on the faculty at CU-Boulder, worked with project lead H. Jerry Qi, associate professor of mechanical engineering at CU-Boulder, on the new 4D design.

CU-Boulder's process builds on a concept originally proposed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist Skylar Tibbits. Tibbits' project joined a strand of plastic with "a layer of 'smart' material that could self-assemble in water."

"We advanced this concept by creating composite materials that can morph into several different, complicated shapes based on a different physical mechanism," explained Dunn. "The secret of using shape memory polymer fibers to generate desired shape changes of the composite material is how the architecture of the fibers is designed, including their location, orientation and other factors."

The location and position of the shape memory fibers within the composite materials determines shape memory effects, including folding, curling, stretching or twisting, according to the team's research. The effects can be manipulated by "heating or cooling the composite material."

Funding for the CU-Boulder project was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

About the Author

Kanoe Namahoe is online editor for 1105 Media's Education Group. She can be reached at

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