Skip to main content

3D printing at the nanoscale produces powerful possibilities

ASU researcher developing new method to enhance precision of 3D printing at very small scales

ASU Assistant Professor Kenan Song and research collaborator Mounika Kakarla wearing white coats in a lab.

ASU Assistant Professor Kenan Song (left) examines a 3D-printed sample of the Multiphase Direct Ink Writing technology with recent master’s degree graduate and research collaborator Mounika Kakarla. Song earned a 2022 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award for this method, which can enhance 3D printing precision of ordered patterns at very small scales with a wider range of nanomaterials. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

May 02, 2022

Kenan Song is excited about the potential of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Its ability to allow for inexpensive and rapid prototyping of custom designs without the limits of traditional manufacturing drives his interest in the field.

Song, an assistant professor of engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is also interested in precise, consistent and efficient production using additive manufacturing. Some of his current research focuses on the exact replication of printed patterns at the nanoscale, with particles more than 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper.

In nanomanufacturing, particularly when it is used in the semiconductor industry, nanoparticles in the form of powders are used to print ordered structures such as dots, lines, pillars and layers. The properties of the nanoparticles are unleashed based on how they are patterned, so it is critical to be able to print them exactly as designed.

“Precise nanomanufacturing that enables patterning on surfaces or interfaces is critical to transferring high-performance nanoparticle properties when scaled up in devices, such as the chips in iPhones,” Song says, noting that the nature of the irregular nanoparticle powders makes this difficult to achieve consistently.

Current additive manufacturing methods use external forces such as electricity, magnets and sound waves to accurately place nanoparticles at certain locations. However, these methods don’t work for all kinds of nanoparticles and have other limitations.

So Song is developing a new 3D printing mechanism called Multiphase Direct Ink Writing to enhance manufacturing precision at very small scales with a wider range of materials.

This work — a project titled “Additively Manufactured Nanomaterial Layers with Submicron Structures” — is supported by a 2022 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award. This award, which supports Song with $600,000 in funding over five years, is given to young faculty members who demonstrate the potential to be education and research leaders and advance the mission of their organizations.

“With unprecedented speeds and resolutions, our additive manufacturing method will provide a fundamental understanding of 3D printing principles involving both machine design and material science studies,” says Song, who is making significant contributions to manufacturing at the ASU Polytechnic campus as a faculty member in The Polytechnic School in addition to his role as a graduate faculty member in aerospace and mechanical engineering, and materials science and engineering, in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, two of the seven schools in the Fulton Schools.

To create this method, Song is leading a multidisciplinary research effort that includes polymer science, nanoparticle synthesis and interfacial engineering to explore interactions of materials at the atomic or molecular level.

The Multiphase Direct Ink Writing method has broad potential use in the rapid prototyping of sensors, actuators and soft robotics, as well as applications in supercapacitors, batteries and regenerative medicine.

Song and his research team will use the method to develop a class of nanoparticles called MXenes with new structures and physical and chemical properties to demonstrate new 3D-printed energy devices.

Another important aspect of CAREER award projects is their educational component. Song is highly involved in including students from underrepresented groups in his research, teaching an entrepreneurial mindset and providing opportunities for research exchange with universities in Israel, France and Qatar.

He believes his efforts in these areas caught the NSF’s attention as he works to increase diversity in the important, growing additive manufacturing industry.

More Science and technology


Two teenagers hug and smile at each other.

ASU study: Support from romantic partners protects against negative relationship stress in teens

Adolescents regularly deal with high levels of stress, which can increase the risk of substance use and experiencing mental…

May 22, 2024
A large bluish-white planet in space.

ASU scientists help resolve 'missing methane' problem of giant exoplanet

In the quest to understand the enigmatic nature of a warm gas-giant exoplanet, Arizona State University researchers have played a…

May 20, 2024
Digital rendering of cells.

Study finds widespread ‘cell cannibalism,’ related phenomena across tree of life

In a new review paper, Carlo Maley and Arizona State University colleagues describe cell-in-cell phenomena in which one cell…

May 20, 2024