First Bionic Ear Created By Scientists – With 3D Printer

Scientists in Princeton University have used the 3D printing technology to create a new medical device. Using metal nanoparticles and live cells, they were able to use a 3D printer to make a bionic ear with an integrated coil antenna. The amazing thing is that the organ is fully functional, can receive radio waves, and may enhance the sense of hearing.

The team, led by Michael McAlpine, described how they used a 3D printer to construct the ear. They deposited layers of materials with the help of a computer simulated model of the human ear. The 3D printer laid down an intricate web of hydrogel, calf cells that eventually turned into cartilage, while silver nanoparticles formed the antenna. Based on the 3D printing technology, the team was able to weave the circuitry into the tissue itself.

Further research still needs to be carried out before the device can be used by people, but the early results are very promising. The device can be attached to nerve endings to enhance or restore hearing. This field of study, also known as cybernetics, involves the design and implementation of bionic organs that can enhance human capabilities.

3D Printing Part I: The Technology

For the past several years 3D printing technology has been garnering quite a few headlines. Unfortunately, as is common for the main-stream media, many of the interesting science elements are left out of these stories. So I figured it was time for a Common Science treatment of this fascinating technology. This week I will discuss what 3D printing is and next week I will speculate on its potential.

The printing process starts by creating a digital 3D model of the object to be assembled in computer code. Next you decide what material you want to build your object from. This choice leads me to the first key element that the mass media usually leaves out. Most stories which one encounters about 3D printers exude boundless optimism about them being able to make just about anything. While 3D printing is quite amazing, there are some limits which are important to understand.

Generally speaking there are three classes of starting materials which can be used by 3D printers: metal powers, plastic powders, or liquids which rapidly polymerize. Once the material is selected the computer model guides an extremely precise nozzle to spray successive layers each approximately 20-100 microns thick. For reference, 100 microns is about the thickness of a human hair. Each layer needs to be fused together using one of the following techniques.

• Plastic powders are melted with a laser beam such that they fuse together when they cool down.
• Metal powers can be joined together in one of two ways. You can shine a laser beam on them such that just the edges melt and then fuse together upon cooling. This process is called sintering and results in an object which is still porous. This makes sintered metals quite useful as very precise filters. Alternatively, the metal powders can be melted with an electron beam such that they form a solid when cooled.
• Liquids can also be used if they polymerize quickly into a plastic when you shine a laser beam on them.

The limitations in the variety of possible starting materials results in limitations on what can be produced by 3D printers. For example, you can use a 3D printer to make a violin; you just have to make it out of plastic. Apparently they don’t sound very good.

The basic science behind 3D printing was developed during the late 1970s and the first 3D printer was constructed in 1984. Over the next three decades parallel developments in the printer technology, material science, and computer programming resulted in the development of commercially viable 3D printing processes by 2010. This time lag of 30 years or so between the basic research and the commercial payout is quite typical of many inventions. Therefore, a society with a long-term plan for continued technological advancement and economic development is well-served to invest in basic research.

Writing this column reminded me of my own Ph.D. research which I carried out from 1989 to 1993 in the area of chemical vapor deposition (CVD). In CVD, you are trying to build up successive layers on a surface which are only one molecule thick, a layer approximately 1,000 times thinner than what is used in 3D printing. Therefore, you can consider CVD as sort of a next generation 3D printing technology. If everything stays on schedule, CVD should become a successful commercial technology sometime in the next decade.

Now that we have covered what 3D printing is and how it works, we can move on next week to some of its more interesting applications and possibilities.

Have a comment or question? Use the interface below or send me an email at commonscience@chapelboro.com.

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3-D printing embraced by fashion industry

  • Woman gets 10-year sentence in immigration scheme

    Woman gets 10-year sentence in immigration scheme

    Saturday, March 22 2014 4:42 PM EDT2014-03-22 20:42:37 GMT

    New Jersey NewsNew Jersey News

    A New Jersey woman who posed as an attorney to steal roughly $100,000 from more than two dozen people who were living in the country illegally is now headed to prison.

    A New Jersey woman who posed as an attorney to steal roughly $100,000 from more than two dozen people who were living in the country illegally is now headed to prison.

  • NY contractor arrested after client finds camera

    NY contractor arrested after client finds camera

    Police say a NY contractor installed a hidden camera in a client’s bathroom so he could tape her as she showered.

    Police say a NY contractor installed a hidden camera in a client’s bathroom so he could tape her as she showered.

  • Man convicted of shooting 2 men over sneakers

    Man convicted of shooting 2 men over sneakers

    Saturday, March 22 2014 2:47 PM EDT2014-03-22 18:47:32 GMT

    An Atlantic City man accused of shooting of two men after they failed to turn over their sneakers during a robbery has been convicted on numerous charges, including two counts of attempted murder.

    An Atlantic City man accused of shooting of two men after they failed to turn over their sneakers during a robbery has been convicted on numerous charges, including two counts of attempted murder.

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    3D printing being used to mass produce ATM skimmers and PoS terminals

    Skimmers

    An individual known only by the online handle “Gripper” has popped up on several underground cybercrime forums advertising a new service. No, it’s not another botnet or malware package — it’s ATM and PoS card skimmers. However, this isn’t like the cheap readers that card thieves have been affixing to ATMs for years. Gripper claims his outfit can mass produce entire readers with a 3D printed casing and the necessary electronics to make everything look legit.

    As proof, Gripper provided pictures of the facility in China where these devices are built. He includes a snapshot of a 3D printer making a piece of a VeriFone PoS terminal, completed parts for ATM machines, and several completed VeriFone readers allegedly built from scratch. The ads even mention several widely used systems by name, and buyers get free 24/7 support. You probably don’t even get that from your computer manufacturer.

    Most card skimmers are designed to be integrated with, or added on top of, the real card reader of an ATM or PoS kiosk. When a customer swipes a card, the skimmer saves the card number and any PIN code that was entered. The thief can come back later and retrieve the data to use or sell on the black market. The advertised machines have the same basic functionality, but would be much harder to detect.

    Ad

    Some of the components Gripper offers include keypads for Wincor ATMs ($1,000), the cover/camera panel for NCR 5886 ATMs ($1,850), and various complete VeriFone terminals for undisclosed sums. Gripper says his group is willing to send devices anywhere in the world and will sell outright, or just work with shopkeepers to pay them a percentage. Several supposed buyers have posted on the forums to confirm that Gripper can deliver what he claims.

    If this and other groups have managed to reach the point of mass producing passable card skimmers and PoS machines, you might have to be much more wary of where you’re swiping that card.

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