Liquid 3D Printing: Berkeley Lab Scientists Create Complex All-Liquid 3D Structures from Water and Oil

When you think of 3D printing a solid object comes to mind yet scientists at Berkeley Lab can print liquids. They have modified a printer so that it prints a liquid tube containing liquids. They did this by injecting water into silicone oil.

Creating Water Threads

The scientists have a vision where their liquid objects can be used in manufacturing electronics that power stretchable devices. They have already created water threads between ten microns and one millimeter in diameter.

The best thing about this water thread is that they easily conform to its surroundings. They can also change shape repeatedly. Two advances have created this material. These are creating the water threads and automating the process.

What locks the water in place is a surfactant which is basically soap. The soap keeps the water from forming droplets. The scientists have nicknamed the soap supersoap.

The two steps in achieving the water threads are dispersing gold nanoparticles into the water and dispersing polymer ligands into the oil. After injecting the water the super soaps jam together. They then vitrify. This stabilizes the interaction of the water and the oil locking the liquid into position.

Once the liquid is locked into position it can be stretched and shaped. Once shaped it stays shaped. The tubes of water last for several months.


After creating the water threads it is time to automate the process. The first thing done was the modification of a 3D printer. The components that printed plastic were removed. It was then replaced with a syringe pump and needle.

The water is squeezed from the needle into the oil. The water threads can be placed anywhere in three dimensions. The shape of the water can be changed by pinging the material with an external force.

The water tubes are considered to be a new class of material that can change its length and shape. This means that it can be used to transport catalysts and also in chemical synthesis. First 3D solid objects, second water threads it is a wonder what the next thing that 3D printers will be able to do.