Nature Inspired 4D printing for biomedical applications

15 December 2017

We are pleased to announce that Anna Ploszajski, Mark Miodownik, Cathy Holloway and Patrick Cullen have been awarded a Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering Inspiration Grant on the Nature Inspired 4D printing for biomedical applications.

The inspiration for this project came from the ability of plants to use millions of actuating micro-respirational pores to perform important physiological functions, such as regulating temperature and moisture level

Many disabled people who wear prosthetics and orthotics on a daily basis face problems with temperature and moisture regulation where their stump interfaces the prosthesis liner. This affects not just the person’s comfort but also their skin health. Their earlier work on prosthetics showed that management of sweat at the skin-liner interface is the best hope to be able to control temperature and moisture levels. By emulating plants’ ability to create membranes with actuating micro-respirational pores, they hope to find a way to achieve this.

4D printing is the process of using additive manufacturing techniques (3D printing) to produce materials with programmable functionality. Since being introduced by its pioneer Skylar Tibbits in 2013, materials engineers have already created some innovative designs for simple actuating shapes which morph in response to stimuli like moisture or heat. However, this new field is in its infancy: there are limited stimuli, and the structures produced are often mechanically weak with slow response times. Researchers are struggling to create more complex designs because techniques for modelling and designing the actuators lack the multi-scale sophistication required.

Furthermore, the 4D printing platforms themselves are without the precision required for material composition and function to be spatially controlled. In this pilot project, they aim to lay the foundations to overcome some of these challenges and to create prosthetic skin-liner integrating nanoscale chemistry with microscale mechanics.


Dr. Anna Ploszajski, Department of Chemistry, UCL

Dr. Cathy Holloway, Academic Director and co-founder, Global Disability Hub

Prof. Mark Miodownik, Institute of Making, UCL

Dr. Patrick Cullen, Department of Chemical Engineering, UCL

Nature Inspired 4D printing for biomedical applications