New Low-Temperature Method for 3D Printing Glass Developed

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have pioneered a new technique for 3D printing intricate glass structures using a low-temperature process. The method addresses key limitations of current glass 3D printing techniques which require high temperatures and extended processing times.

Fabrication of transparent silica glass. (A) Schematic illustration of the 3D printing process to create microstructures with a PDMS network using a Nanoscribe 2PP printer. (B) Schematic illustration of the conversion process from PDMS to amorphous silica glass under DUV-ozone conditions. Oxygen is flowed continually into the glass chamber for the formation of ozone and singlet atomic oxygen O(1D) in excited state during DUV irradiation. (C) Infrared image of a thin film under DUV-ozone conversion. The white dash line indicates the position of the 3 cm–by–2.5 cm film. The temperature variation across the entire film is less than 20°C. Scale bar, 2 cm. (D) Optical microscope image of the printed PDMS Georgia Tech Buzz mascot before conversion. (E and F) Optical microscope image and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of the silica glass Buzz mascot after conversion. Scale bars, 50 μm. (Source: Science Advances)

The new approach uses a liquid photosensitive resin made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) as the raw printing material instead of silica nanoparticle-based inks. The PDMS resin is precisely shaped into microscale 3D structures using a technique called two-photon polymerization. The polymer structures are then converted into glass by exposing them to deep ultraviolet (DUV) light in an oxygen environment.

This photochemistry-based process hardens the PDMS into transparent silica glass at just 220°C, far below the over 1100°C needed in conventional glass 3D printing. The conversion also takes less than 5 hours, compared to 12+ hours for existing methods. This makes the new technique more energy-efficient and faster.

The researchers confirmed the PDMS-to-glass transformation using chemical analysis. They successfully printed complex 3D microstructures like miniature lenses and microfluidic channels with excellent precision and optical clarity.

The new low-temperature glass printing technique enables the cost-effective fabrication of intricate glass microcomponents for applications in optics, electronics, medical devices, and microfluidics. The researchers are now focused on scaling up the process to print larger millimeter-scale glass structures.


Mingzhe Li et al., Low-temperature 3D printing of transparent silica glass microstructures.Sci. Adv.9,eadi2958(2023).DOI:10.1126/sciadv.adi2958