A future is quickly approaching where the average citizen will be able to purchase a 3D printer with the capability to print out a variety of objects. For some though, that future is just not enough, so they are looking to what could lie beyond it. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the University of Illinois have received a grant from the United States Army Research Office to develop printable 4D materials.
While most people would associate a fourth dimension with time, in this case the additional dimension could be for a number of metrics, including light exposure, temperature, and physical force. The idea behind these materials is that they will react to external stimuli, such as changing color in bright light, or stiffening when struck. Achieving this will require the ability to manipulate materials at the micro and nano levels, so that properties can be controlled on the macro level.
As this news is just about a grant to fund the work, there is nothing to show for it yet. Eventually though we could see Army uniforms that adapt their camouflage, alter their permeability at different temperatures, and even harden to catch incoming shrapnel.
Source: University of Pittsburgh