3D printing could lead to bionic brain chips (and microscopic toy bunnies)

The idea of applying a regular computer chip directly to your brain is silly, so scientists at Japan's Yokohama National University have created a new material that can be shaped into complex, conductive microscopic 3D structures. What does that mean? It could potentially lead to custom brain electrodes.

While it might just look like a simple black and white bunny, the thing in the above photo is actually a microscopic 3D-printed object with features that measure just a few micrometers across. The scientists say their research could lead to the development of microelectrodes that interface directly with the brain.

These customized microelectrodes would sit in the brain to send and receive electrical signals as a way to treat disorders like epilepsy, depression, and Parkinson's disease.

The whole thing starts by using lasers to fashion a light-sensitive resin, called Resorcinol Diglycidyl Ether (RDGE), into a 3D print. 3D printing will of course allow the scientists to create any shape they want, including chips that could slip into your brain crevices.

But that's only half the equation: This new resin is also designed to take more heat, so its baked at high-temperatures until it shrinks and darkens in a process called "carbonizing," or charring. This final curing process increases the conductivity of the resin along with its surface area, making it a better electrode.

The bunny test

To test the effectiveness of their new resin-based creations, the scientists printed the Sanford bunny, which is a standardized shape commonly used in 3D modeling and computer graphics.

"When we got the carbon bunny structure, we were very surprised," said Shoji Maruo, who co-lead the research team, in a release. "Even with a very simple experimental structure, we could get this complicated 3-D carbon microstructure."

Now that the researchers have developed a new material that can undergo carbonizing with out warping into a glob, they can focus on creating applications for it. If you want to read more about the study, it appears in the journal Optical Methods Express.

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