Don't be fooled by the name. While 3D printers do print tangible objects (and quite well), how they do the job doesn't actually happen in 3D, but rather in regular old 2D.
Working to change that is a group of former and current researchers from the Rowland Institute at Harvard.
First, here's how 3D printing works: The printers lay down flat layers of resin, which will harden into plastic after being exposed to laser light, on top of each other, again and again from the bottom to the top. Eventually, the object, such as a skull, takes shape. But if a piece of the print overhangs, like a bridge or a wing of a plane, it requires some type of flat support structure to actually print, or the resin will fall apart.
The researchers present a method to help the printers live up to their names and deliver a "true" 3D form of printing. In a new paper in Nature, they describe a technique of volumetric 3D printing that goes beyond the bottom-up, layered approach. The process eliminates the need for support structures because the resin it creates is self-supporting.
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