Imagine a portable 3D printer you could hold in the palm of your hand. The tiny device could enable a user to rapidly create customized, low-cost objects on the go, like a fastener to repair a wobbly bicycle wheel or a component for a critical medical operation.

Researchers from MIT and the University of Texas at Austin took a major step toward making this idea a reality by demonstrating the first chip-based 3D printer. Their proof-of-concept device consists of a single, millimeter-scale that emits reconfigurable beams of light into a well of resin that cures into a solid shape when light strikes it.

The prototype chip has no moving parts, instead relying on an array of tiny optical antennas to steer a beam of light. The beam projects up into a liquid resin that has been designed to rapidly cure when exposed to the beam's wavelength of visible light.

By combining silicon photonics and photochemistry, the interdisciplinary research team was able to demonstrate a chip that can steer light beams to 3D print arbitrary two-dimensional patterns, including the letters M-I-T. Shapes can be fully formed in a matter of seconds.

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