MIT researchers demonstrate 3D printable wood is now possible

MIT researchers can now grow and 3D print wood like plant material without excess waste as an alternative to cutting down trees.

Published Fri, May 27 2022 5:07 AM CDT   |   Updated Thu, Jun 16 2022 11:54 PM CDT

A study on the new 3D-printed plant materials titled "Physical, mechanical, and microstructural characterization of novel, 3D-printed, tunable, lab-grown plant materials generated from Zinnia elegans cell cultures" has been published in the journal Materials Today.

MIT researchers demonstrate 3D printable wood is now possible 01 |

Researchers from MIT have developed a method of generating "wood-like plant material" in a laboratory as a more environmentally friendly means of acquiring wood-like material than cutting down trees. Currently, about 10 million hectares of forest are lost to deforestation, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Iceland. Some scientists predict that if deforestation continues at the same rate, in 100 to 200 years, there will be no forests left in the world.

"The idea is that you can grow these plant materials in exactly the shape that you need, so you don't need to do any subtractive manufacturing after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste. There is a lot of potential to expand this and grow three-dimensional structures," said lead author Ashley Beckwith, a recent PhD graduate.

The researchers created cell cultures from leaves of the Zinnia elegans plant on liquid and gel mediums with various nutrients and two different hormones. Adjusting the levels of these hormones allowed the researchers to achieve the specific physical and mechanical characteristics of the plant cells they desired as they grew. From there, they could use a 3D printer to extrude the cell culture gel solution to create specific structures.

"In the human body, you have hormones that determine how your cells develop and how certain traits emerge. In the same way, by changing the hormone concentrations in the nutrient broth, the plant cells respond differently. Just by manipulating these tiny chemical quantities, we can elicit pretty dramatic changes in terms of the physical outcomes," Beckwith continued.

You can read more from the MIT press release here and the study here.

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Adam grew up watching his dad play Turok 2 and Age of Empires on a PC in his computer room, and learned a love for video games through him. Adam was always working with computers, which helped build his natural affinity for working with them, leading to him building his own at 14, after taking apart and tinkering with other old computers and tech lying around. Adam has always been very interested in STEM subjects, and is always trying to learn more about the world and the way it works.

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