Researchers use sound-waves and holograms to quickly mold tiny 3D shapes

The idea of ​​growing organs or tissues for medical use still sounds like science fiction – and in fact, it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. 3D printing technology shows some promise in the field of biofabrication, but the process is very slow, and often damages the tissue it is used for. Researchers in Germany may have a solution: using holograms and sound fields to rapidly assemble objects in 3D.

The process uses acoustic pressure to mold silica gel microspheres and other materials into complex 3D shapes. Getting rid of that is not easy. The team first had to learn how to create complex, layered holographic shapes formed from sound, rather than light – and this required an incredible amount of computational power. “Digitizing an entire 3D object into ultrasound hologram fields is very demanding and requires us to create a new calculation routine,” one of the team’s researchers said. FastCompany.

Once the hologram is complete, however, it can be used to mold different materials. The shapes the team has come up with so far aren’t too big — measuring less than an inch at the largest — but they’re quite complex. Even more impressive, the manufacturing process happens quickly: A video included in the published study shows a clear cube with a cloudy liquid made of silica gel microspheres. After a few moments, that cloud forms a helix.

Other experiments have formed shapes using mouse myoblast cells, and the study’s lead author, Kai Melde, said FastCompany that the technology has the potential to be used for bioprinting in the future. “Ultrasound is gentle and non-toxic to cells,” explained Melde. “And the remote, contactless assembly helps keep things sterile and the cells happy.” The study also explores the idea of ​​using the technology for targeted drug delivery and rapid prototyping. For now though, the research stands as an interesting proof of concept for rapid one-step assembly of 3D objects, and a potential, much faster alternative to 3D printing in the future.

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