Programming the 4th Dimension

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Skylar Tibbits is spearheading a new technique: the 3D printing of responsive objects that adapt to their surroundings–aka 4D printing.  Not only can objects be printed, but thanks to geometric code, they can also change shape and transform on their own.  Yes, you read that right. Everything from sneakers to water pipes can adapt to their environments and stimulus as needed.

“With a 3D printer, an operator plugs in a virtual blueprint for an object, which the printer uses to construct the final product layer by layer. To make something 4D, though, Tibbits feeds the printer a precise geometric code based on the object’s own angles and dimensions but also measurements that dictate how it should change shape when confronted with outside forces such as water, movement or a change in temperature.

In short, the code sets the direction, the number of times and the angles at which a material can bend and curl. When that object is confronted with a change in environment, it can be stimulated to change shape. Pipes, for instance, could programmed to expand or shrink to help move water; bricks could shift to accommodate more or less stress on a given wall.”

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