Harvard University, 4D Printing: Shapeshifting Architecture.

4D Printing

Time As a New Material Dimension

March 26, 2017, Tapio Mäkelä

4D printing adds a new dimension to 3D printing: time. An object changes its shape or quality as it encounters some external stimuli such as temperature shift or contact with water. Currently researched in several laboratories, 4D printing may add programmability to materials and objects. 

The MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, Stratasys and Autodesk coined a new process called 4D printing. Besides 3D printing an object, it´s materials have properties that change over time to perform certain functions. Skylar Tibbit, a researcher with MIT, talks about programmable materials. 

The Wyss Institute at Harvard University has created 4D objects inspired by the way plants change their shape. These 4D objects were made ”with a hydrogel composite ink containing aligned cellulose fibrils, which enable anisotropic swelling. A proprietary mathematical model developed by the team precisely predicts how the fibrils will swell in water.” 

4D printing also involves bioplastics that adapt to the human body over time. Time as a fourth dimension to 3D printing may also solve one of its challenges: recyclability. 


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