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Scientists Print 3D Prototype of “Bionic Eye”

A team of researchers has printed a “bionic eye” prototype using 3D printing technology, potentially giving sight to the blind.

A team of scientists from the University of Minnesota has 3D-printed a “bionic eye” prototype. The aim is to create bionic eyes that could allow blind people to see, along with improving sight for people with normal vision.

The scientists were able to print a set of light receptors on a hemispherical material using 3D printing technology. According to Michael McAlpine, co-author of the study, Benjamin Mayhugh, University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, using a multi-material 3D printer for bionic eyes is “not rocket science” as earlier thought, and could soon become everyday reality within just a few years.

Converting Light to Electricity

Though printing on any curved material is challenging, researchers began experimenting with a hemispherical glass dome. They used a customized 3D printer along with ink containing silver particles as its base component. The applied ink dried efficiently where administered without ever running down the curved surface.

The scientists then used semiconducting polymer materials to print photodiodes, which convert light into electricity. The overall experiment took about an hour to achieve the desired results. McAlpine said the team was surprised to be able to use the 3D-printed semiconductors to convert light into electricity with 25 percent efficiency.

“We have a long way to go to routinely print active electronics reliably, but our 3D-printed semiconductors are now starting to show that they could potentially rival the efficiency of semiconducting devices fabricated in microfabrication facilities,” McAlpine said. “Plus, we can easily print a semiconducting device on a curved surface, and they can’t.”

“When Are You Going to Print Me a Bionic Eye?”

The author of the study has a patent in place for the 3D-printed devices. In the past, the research team has successfully integrated 3D printing, electronics, and biology into the same material–several years ago, they were celebrated internationally after printing a “bionic ear.”

They have since gone ahead to successfully 3D-print “bionic skin,” artificial organs, as well as cells and scaffolds that spinal cord patients could use to regain some functionality. According to McAlpine, his motivation for creating a “bionic eye” prototype is his mother, who is blind in one eye and always asks him “When are you going to print me a bionic eye?”

The team looks forward to producing a fully functioning prototype with increased light receptors able to convert light into energy. They also hope to 3D-print on a soft-enough hemispherical material capable of being implanted into an actual human eye.


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