3D printed synthetic biological material

Biological material could be 3D printed to create self-healing shoes:

Biological material could be 3D printed to create self-healing shoes

Biological material could be 3D printed to create self-healing shoes

Shoes as we know them are a pretty modern invention, and a lot of research has gone into creating more comfortable, high-performance materials to cover one’s feet. Even the most advanced rubber-soled shoe can’t compare to the concept being proposed by London designer and researcher Shamees Aden. These shoes would be 3D printed from synthetic biological material for the perfect fit, and they could repair themselves overnight.

The process would start with a 3D scan of the wearer’s foot. This would be used to print the “shoe,” which should conform perfectly to all the curves and lines of the scanned appendage. As for the material that it’s being printed with, that’s what makes the idea so intriguing.

Aden is working with Dr. Martin Hanczyc from the University of Southern Denmark. Dr. Hanczyc works with protocells, one of the most basic biological constructs. A protocell is not quite alive — it’s essentially a lipid membrane containing a collection of organic molecules that may have some biological activity. These structures can self assemble under the right circumstances, so there is great interest in the roll these almost-cells could have played in the appearance of life on Earth, a process known as abiogenesis.


Printing a foot covering out of protocells would allow for precise control of cushioning and support. The shoes could also react to different situations as they come by puffing up in places for added comfort. At the end of the day, the protocell shoe could be soaked in a solution the help the structures repair themselves.

This is obviously still just a concept — we don’t even have industrial scale biological printing. Even when we do, printing a semi-living shoes probably won’t be high on the to-do list.

Synthetic gel communicates with itself

In a paper published in the January 8 print edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research team demonstrates that a synthetic system can reconfigure itself through a combination of chemical communication and interaction with light.

This study demonstrates the ability of a synthetic material to actually 'talk to itself'

This study demonstrates the ability of a synthetic material to actually ‘talk to itself’

Anna Balazs, principal investigator of the study and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has long studied the properties of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gel, a material first fabricated in the late 1990s and shown to pulsate in the absence of any external stimuli.

In a previous study, the team noticed that long pieces of gel attached to a surface by one end “bent” toward one another, almost as if they were trying to communicate by sending signals. This hint that “chatter” might be taking place led the team to detach the fixed ends of the gels and allow them to move freely.

Balazs and her team developed a 3D gel model to test the effects of the chemical signaling and light on the material. They found that when the gel pieces were moved far apart, they would automatically come back together, exhibiting autochemotaxis—the ability to both emit and sense a chemical, and move in response to that signal.

“This study demonstrates the ability of a synthetic material to actually ‘talk to itself’ and follow out a given action or command, similar to such biological species as amoeba and termites,” says Balazs.

“Imagine a Lego set that could by itself unsnap its parts and then put itself back together again in different shapes but also allow you to control those shapes through chemical reaction and light.”

“We find this system to be extremely exciting and important because it provides a unique opportunity to study autochemotaxis in synthetic systems,” says Olga Kuksenok, a member of the research team and research associate professor in the department of chemical engineering.

The National Science Foundation, Army Research Office, and Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported the research.

‘Invisible’ Metamaterial

‘Invisible’ Material Can Now Fool Your Eyes

‘Invisible’ Material Can Now Fool Your Eyes


Tech journalists and military dreamers have talked about real-life invisibility cloaks for a while, and with good reason. With their specialized structures, so-called “metamaterials” can bend light around objects, making ‘em disappear.  Metamaterials warp things like infrared light or terahertz waves, neither of which we can see in the first place. In other words, we could still make out the “invisible” object with our own two eyes. Or at least, that used to be the case. Physicists at the University of St. Andrews appear to have made a breakthrough, however. They’ve created a metamaterial that really does work in the “optical range,” the scientists note in the New Journal of Physics. Not only did Andrea Di Falco and his research partners put together a metamaterial that could bend visible light. They built it in a way that could lead to larger-scale manufacturing — and real-world applications. Not just cloaks, but lenses made out of metamaterials that can zoom to the micron level, making it possible to spot germs, chemical agents and even DNA, using basically a pair of binoculars. “It clearly isn’t an invisibility cloak yet — but it’s the right step toward that,” Ortwin Hess, a physicist at Imperial College London, tells the BBC. “A huge step forward in very many ways.” Typically, metamaterials are built on top of rigid, brittle substrates like silicon. But that limits their size, and the wavelengths at which they work. Di Falco’s group instead made materials out of a superthin layer of flexible polymer, since “a ‘real’ cloaking device would have to be deformable and extend over a large area,” they write. If Di Falco and his partners can stack enough of these materials together — and show they can work while folded.