Of all the useless objects we have ever known or seen, this might be the only one we might be moved to describe as exquisite.
It’s a model of a Formula One car. Finely and precisely detailed, it was created in only four minutes by a 3D printer at the Vienna Institute of Technology, and it measures 0.28mm across. It would fit neatly inside the dot at the top of this letter i.
Just another technological novelty? Not really. It is in fact a good deal more. This tiny model consists of about one hundred microfine layers and it was created in such a short period of time because it is the product of new, ground-breaking technology.
The new technique is called two-photon lithography, and it uses two finely-focused light beams and a layer of a new resin-based material. The material, liquid under normal conditions, hardens into plastic when bombarded by photons from two different sources. The implications of this rapid and precise nano-technology are vast for scientific and medical applications.
More conventional 3D printing involves laying down a single complete layer, one at a time, until an object has been completed. Completing a complex object can take hours or days.
Professor Jürgen Stampfl from the Institute of Materials Science and Technology at the TU Vienna said: “Until now, this technique used to be quite slow.
“The printing speed used to be measured in millimeters per second – our device can do five meters in one second.”
This technology is still new and limited — solid plastic shapes like this car are the only one it has generated so far — but the research is moving onward and it appears to be gathering momentum.