Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique that can be used to print metal in 3D, possibly opening up doors for a new range of flexible electronics.

The scientists put liquid metal into a syringe - similar to the nozzle on a 3D printer - and squeezed out droplets one on top of each other to form centimetre long wires that were able to stand vertically, despite their liquid interior.

Michael Dickey, co-author of the paper published online by Advanced Materials, said the wires are able to defy gravity because the liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts with oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a ‘skin’ that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes.

“The metal is expensive - which is certainly a drawback,” Dickey told Techworld. ”You wouldn't want to use it to make something the size of a wrench.”

The team at NC State are now exploring how these techniques can be used in various electronics applications and in conjunction with established 3D printing technologies.

“As the metal is a liquid, it can be embedded in rubber to form metallic components that are stretchable, flexible, and durable,” said Dickey.

Up until now 3D printers have only been able to print certain types of plastic.

The first plastic-printing 3D printer to hit the high street emerged yesterday after electronic retailer Maplin introduced the £700 Velleman K8200 machine to its product line.

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