Glass is one of the most important high-performance materials used for scientific research, in industry and in society, mainly owing to its unmatched optical transparency, outstanding mechanical, chemical and thermal resistance as well as its thermal and electrical insulating properties1, 2, 3. However, glasses and especially high-purity glasses such as fused silica glass are notoriously difficult to shape, requiring high-temperature melting and casting processes for macroscopic objects or hazardous chemicals for microscopic features3, 4. These drawbacks have made glasses inaccessible to modern manufacturing technologies such as three-dimensional printing (3D printing). Using a casting nanocomposite5, here we create transparent fused silica glass components using stereolithography 3D printers at resolutions of a few tens of micrometres. The process uses a photocurable silica nanocomposite that is 3D printed and converted to high-quality fused silica glass via heat treatment. The printed fused silica glass is non-porous, with the optical transparency of commercial fused silica glass, and has a smooth surface with a roughness of a few nanometres. By doping with metal salts, coloured glasses can be created. This work widens the choice of materials for 3D printing, enabling the creation of arbitrary macro- and microstructures in fused silica glass for many applications in both industry and academia.
At a glance
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Extended data figures and tables
Extended Data Figures
- Extended Data Figure 1: Characterization of the nanocomposite processing. (89 KB)
a, Thermal gravimetric analysis of the cured nanocomposite used for stereolithography. The sample had a solid loading of 37.5 vol% SiO2. b, Corresponding heating programme for thermal debinding (I) and sintering (II) used for the composite shaped using stereolithography. c, Stereolithography cure depth (depth of a voxel upon exposure, corresponding to the penetration of the polymerization front during exposure) versus the laser power. The nanocomposites are highly stable and can be used for weeks with the same polymerization parameters.
- Extended Data Figure 2: Material and surface characterization of sintered glass. (171 KB)
a, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy narrow scans of elemental lines of printed and sintered glass compared to commercial fused silica glass. All spectra show virtually no difference between sintered fused silica glass and commercial fused silica glass. b, X-ray diffraction measurement shows that no devitrification occurs during the sintering process. Devitrification would present in the form of narrow peaks and spikes in the spectrum. c, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) measurements of sintered glass compared to commercial fused silica glass.