Printing, Plating, And Baking Makes DIY Microlattices Possible

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To be honest, we originally considered throwing [Zachary Tong]’s experiments with ultralight metallic microlattices into the “Fail of the Week” bucket. But after watching the video below for a second time, it’s just not fair to call this a fail, so maybe we’ll come up with a new category — “Qualified Success of the Week”, perhaps?

[Zachary]’s foray into the strange world of microlattices began when he happened upon a 2011 paper on the subject in Science. By using a special photocurable resin, the researchers were able to use light shining through a mask with fine holes to create a plastic lattice, which was then plated with nickel using the electroless process, similar to the first half of the electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG) process used for PCBs. After removing the resin with a concentrated base solution, the resulting microlattice is strong, stiff, and incredibly light.

Lacking access to the advanced materials and methods originally used, [Zachary] did the best he could with what he had. An SLA printer with off-the-shelf resin was used to print the skeleton using the same algorithms used in the original paper. Those actually turned out pretty decent, but rather than electroless plating, he had to go with standard electroplating after a coat of graphite paint. The plated skeletons looked great — until he tried to dissolve the resin. When chemical approaches failed, into the oven went the plated prints. Sadly, it turns out that the polymers in the resin expand when heated, which blew the plating apart. A skeleton in PLA printed on an FDM printer fared little better; when heated to drive out the plastic, it became clear that the tortuous interior of the lattice didn’t plate very well.

From aerogels to graphene, we love these DIY explorations of new and exotic materials, so hats off to [Zachary] for giving it a try in the first place.

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