Of all the materials that can be 3d-printed, glass remains one of the most challenging.
But scientists at the ETH Zurich research center in Switzerland are working to change that with a new and better glass printing technology.
It is now possible to print glass objects, and the most commonly used methods involve either extruding molten glass, or selective sintering (laser-heated) ceramic powders to convert them into glass.
The former requires high temperatures and therefore heat-resistant equipment, while the latter cannot produce particularly complex objects.
ETH's new technology aims to improve on both.
It contains a photosensitive resin consisting of liquid plastics and organic molecules bonded to silicon-containing molecules, in other words, ceramic molecules.
Using an existing process called digital light processing, the resin is exposed to patterns of ultraviolet light.
No matter where light hits the resin, the plastic monomers are cross-linked to form a solid polymer.
The polymer has a labyrinthine internal structure in which Spaces are filled with ceramic molecules.
The resulting 3d object is then fired at 600oC, burning the polymer and leaving only the ceramics.
In the second roasting, the roasting temperature was about 1000oC, and the ceramics were densified into transparent porous glass.
The object does shrink significantly when converted to glass, a factor that must be considered in the design process.
The researchers say that although the objects created so far are small, their shapes are quite complex.
In addition, the aperture can be adjusted by changing the uv intensity, or other properties of the glass can be changed by mixing borates or phosphates into the resin.
A leading glassware distributor in Switzerland has expressed interest in using the technology, which is similar to one being developed by Germany's karlsruhe technical institute.