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Three-dimensional printing of transparent fused silica glass

Nature volume 544, pages 337339 (20 April 2017) | Download Citation


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.

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This work was funded in part by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), “Fluoropor” (grant number 03X5527) and “Molecular Interaction Engineering: From Nature’s Toolbox to Hybrid Technical Systems” (grant number 031A095C). We thank S. Wagner for helping with the photographs and R. Thelen for atomic force microscope measurements. We thank the Institute of Applied Materials (IAM-WPT) for helping with the Supplementary Video. This work was partly carried out with the support of the Karlsruhe Nano Micro Facility (www.kit.edu/knmf), a Helmholtz Research Infrastructure at KIT. We thank BASF and Evonik for providing chemicals.

Author information


  1. Institute of Microstructure Technology (IMT), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Platz 1, Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen 76344, Germany

    • Frederik Kotz
    • , Karl Arnold
    • , Nico Keller
    • , Kai Sachsenheimer
    • , Tobias M. Nargang
    • , Christiane Richter
    • , Dorothea Helmer
    •  & Bastian E. Rapp
  2. Institute for Applied Materials (IAM), KIT, Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Platz 1, Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen 76344, Germany

    • Werner Bauer
  3. Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal (INE), KIT, Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Platz 1, Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen 76344, Germany

    • Dieter Schild


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F.K. and B.E.R. conceived the idea. F.K. designed the experiments, synthesized the material and performed the stereolithography processes. K.A. performed the microlithography process. W.B. performed X-ray diffraction and thermal gravimetric analysis measurements. C.R. performed white-light interferometry measurements. N.K., T.M.N. and K.S. performed scanning electron microscopy measurements. D.H. performed ultraviolet–visible measurements. F.K. wrote the manuscript and all authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bastian E. Rapp.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks J. Smay and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text.


  1. 1.

    Three-dimensional printing of glass

    The video gives a short introduction into the printing process of the nanocomposite, the thermal debinding and the sintering process.

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