Inspired by nature’s ability to shape a petal, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a new tool for manufacturing three-dimensional shapes easily and cheaply, to aid advances in biomedicine, robotics, and tunable micro-optics.

Researchers developed a method for exposing ultraviolet-sensitive thin polymer sheets to patterns of light. The amount of light absorbed at each position on the sheet programs the amount that this region will expand when placed in contact with water, thus mimicking nature’s ability to direct certain cells to grow while suppressing the growth of others. The technique involves spreading a 10-micrometer-thick layer (about 5 times thinner than a human hair) of polymer onto a substrate before exposure.

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