Man Looking in Microscope --- Image by © Sean Justice/Corbis

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have found a way to 3D print biocompatible components for the use in tiny sensors and motors, making them perfect for medical devices, such as bionic body parts.

Tiny smartphone sensors use Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to tell your phone to rotate vertically or horizontally from information gathered by its surroundings. It does this by converting chemical signals into electrical signals that the smartphone can read. MEMS actuators work in the other direction, executing commands by converting electrical signals into movement and could focus your next smartphone’s camera.

Leeya Engel and Jenny Shklovsky from TUA are under the supervision of Prof. Yosi Shacham-Diamand and Slava Krylov. Engel and Shklovsky are creating a printing technique that works with a highly flexible and non-toxic organic polymer supplied by French chemical producer Arkema/Piezotech, rather than a silicon material that is traditionally used for MEMs membranes. The material supplied by the French company is able to be used in the human body safely and has a lower energy consumption.

The polymer membranes of the material make it suitable for human implants and nano-scale sensors. When used in devices such as diagnostic tests and smart prosthetics, it could help make those prosthetics more comfortable for the user, efficient, and safer for use on or inside the body.

“The use of new, soft materials in micro devices stretches both the imagination and the limits of technology.” Engel said.

Engel went on to say “but introducing polymer MEMS to industry can only be realized with the development of printing technologies that allow for low cost mass production. The team’s new polymer membranes can already be quickly and inexpensively produced.”

Apparently the next step for the special MEMS sensors is to use the 3D printing process to make functional sensors and actuators almost entirely out of the polymer at the micro- and nano-scales. This means that machines such as artificial muscles or flexible screens that can be put in a pocket could be built.

This technology has the possibility to change the prosthetic, robotic and medical in the future. Read more here.