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Iced Tree

3D ice printing enables construction of complex shapes – potential application in microfluidics and drug delivery

25 December 2022

Iced Tree

In winter we might see frosted branches or icy fingers creeping down windowpanes. But now scientists are mimicking these natural patterns to 'grow' complex structures in a cold corner of the lab. This modified form of 3D printing involves raining water down onto a stage cooled to -35°C. The water freezes instantly – drop by drop the trees grow, each 'branch' designed by the speed of the drips and the movement of the stage. These tiny works of ice could serve as templates for reverse moulding – pouring resin around the ice and then simply letting it melt away – to make intricate microfluidic devices, or perhaps to arrange living cells. After all, as the authors say, “it doesn’t get any more biocompatible than water”. Might it even be possible to use the temporary structures as melting devices to deliver drugs? Or perhaps some very festive ice sculptures.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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