Scientist recreated a milimeter scale statue using a unique 3D printing technique

Michelangelo’s original statue of David, which was completed in the early sixteenth century, is among the world’s most famous works of art. While the 5.17m original was sculpted from marble, many replicas since have been created in bronze, plaster and fibreglass.

Now, ETH Zurich scientists have created a unique version of the famous statue by 3D printing a millimetre-scale David in pure copper.

The researchers created two tiny sculptures: a 1mm David and a second one which is ten times smaller (merely the height of the other’s pedestal). 3D printing such small structures can be troublesome due to the difficulty achieving the required resolution.

Both statues were created using a 3D-printing technique developed by ETH Zurich Professor Tomaso Zambelli. The method creates a metal structure at the nanoscale and microscale, using a micropipette coupled to a cantilever. This makes it possible to continuously monitor the force with which the pipette touches the substrate. This allows for dissolved metals to be electrochemically deposited on a conductive substrate with extreme precision. 3D objects can be automatically built up layer-by-layer with the help of optical force measurements.

This technique has been adopted and adapted by Exaddon – the 3D printing offshoot of university spin-off Cytosurge – which has improved on its printing speed.

Cytosurge’s Giorgio Ercolano worked with Zambelli to create the microscale David statues, demonstrating the potential of the technique to create shapes of extreme complexity. Previously, the researchers had mostly used it to create tiny coils and columns. “The process allows us to print structures or geometries of all levels of complexity,” Ercolano explained.

The tiny statue was printed in a single run with no supports or templates and did not require any firing or tempering. The system developed by Zambelli and adapted by Exaddon can print objects up to 5mm in size and requiring up to 1µl of ‘ink’: copper, nickel, gold or platinum.

The researchers have received interest from the electronics industry and suggest that the technique could be used to connect chips together or repair microelectronic devices.

“We’re thrilled that a technology from our research lab has made its way into practical application,” said Zambelli. “An independent group was able to adopt our 3D printing technology and even improve upon it, which shows that it really works.”

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