A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota have, for the first time, fully 3D printed an array of light receptors on a hemispherical surface.
This discovery marks a significant step toward creating a “bionic eye” that could someday help blind people see or sighted people see better.
McAlpine said the most surprising part of the process was the 25 percent efficiency in converting the light into electricity they achieved with the fully 3D-printed semiconductors.
“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.”
McAlpine and his team are known for integrating 3D printing, electronics, and biology on a single platform. They received international attention a few years ago for printing a “bionic ear.” Since then, they have 3D printed life-like artificial organs for surgical practice, electronic fabric that could serve as “bionic skin,” electronics directly on a moving hand, and cells and scaffolds that could help people living with spinal cord injuries regain some function.
McAlpine’s drive to create a bionic eye is a little more personal.
“My mother is blind in one eye, and whenever I talk about my work, she says, ‘When are you going to print me a bionic eye?'” McAlpine said.
McAlpine’s research team includes University of Minnesota mechanical engineering graduate student Ruitao Su, postdoctoral researchers Sung Hyun Park, Shuang-Zhuang Guo, Kaiyan Qiu, Daeha Joung, Fanben Meng, and undergraduate student Jaewoo Jeong.
The research was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health (Award No. 1DP2EB020537), The Boeing Company, and the Minnesota Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) Initiative through the State of Minnesota.