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Three-dimensional printing of transparent fused silica glass

Abstract

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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Figure 1: 3D printing of fused silica glass.
Figure 2: Characterization of sintered glass and high resolution nanocomposite.
Figure 3: Microstructuring of fused silica glass.
Figure 4: Surface and optical characterization of sintered glass.

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Acknowledgements

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

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bastian E. Rapp.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Characterization of the nanocomposite processing.

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.

Source data

Extended Data Figure 2 Material and surface characterization of sintered glass.

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.

Source data

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text. (PDF 110 kb)

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. (MP4 18333 kb)

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Kotz, F., Arnold, K., Bauer, W. et al. Three-dimensional printing of transparent fused silica glass. Nature 544, 337–339 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22061

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