Applelinks Tech Web Reader - Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Michigan Tech Scientists Build Low-Cost, Open-Source 3D Metal Printer
Microsoft's 1997 Apple Investment: The Worst Deal Of All?
Ninja Polymers - Nanomedicine From IBM That Can Destroy Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

Michigan Tech Scientists Build Low-Cost, Open-Source 3D Metal Printer

Michigan Technological University News writer Marcia Goodrich notes that maybe you aren't interested in making your own toys, cellphone cases, or glow-in-the-dark Christmas decorations, but how about a brake drum?

Until now, 3D printing has been a polymer affair, with most people in the maker community using the machines to make all manner of plastic consumer goods, from tent stakes to chess sets, but a new low-cost 3D printer developed at Michigan Tech's Open Sustainability Technology Lab by Joshua Pearce and his team could add hammers to that list. The detailed plans, software and firmware are all freely available and open-source, meaning anyone can use them to make their own metal 3D printer:


The paper notes that technical progress in the open-source self replicating rapid prototyper (RepRap) community has enabled a distributed form of additive manufacturing to expand rapidly using polymer-based materials. However, the lack of an open-source metal alternative and the high capital costs and slow throughput of proprietary commercialized metal 3-D printers has severely restricted their deployment. The applications of commercialized metal 3-D printers are limited to only rapid prototyping and expensive finished products. This severely restricts the access of the technology for small and medium enterprises, the developing world and for use in laboratories. This paper reports on the development of a <$2000 open-source metal 3-D printer. The metal 3-D printer is controlled with an open-source micro-controller and is a combination of a low-cost commercial gas-metal arc welder and a derivative of the Rostock, a deltabot RepRap. The bill of materials, electrical and mechanical design schematics, and basic construction and operating procedures are provided. A preliminary technical analysis of the properties of the 3-D printer and the resultant steel products are performed. The results of printing customized functional metal parts are discussed and conclusions are drawn about the potential for the technology and the future work necessary for the mass distribution of this technology.

Ms. Goodrich reports that Dr. Pearce is first to admit his new printer is a work in progress. So far, the products he and his team have produced are no more intricate than a sprocket. But thats because the technology is so raw. Similar to the incredible churn in innovation witnessed with open-sourcing of the first RepRap plastic 3D printers, I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it, says Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering/electrical and computer engineering. Within a month, somebody will make one thats better than ours, I guarantee it.

Using under $1,500 worth of materials, including a small commercial MIG welder and an open-source microcontroller, Dr. Pearce's team built a 3D metal printer than can lay down thin layers of steel to form complex geometric objects. Commercial metal printers are available, but they cost over half a million dollars.

His make-it-yourself metal printer is less expensive than off-the-shelf commercial plastic 3D printers and is affordable enough for home use, he said. However, because of safety concerns, Dr. Pearce suggests that for now it would be better off in the hands of a shop, garage or skilled DIYer, since it requires more safety gear and fire protection equipment than the typical plastic 3D printer.

While metal 3D printing opens new vistas, it also raises anew the specter of homemade firearms. Some people have already made guns with both commercial metal and plastic 3D printers, with mixed results. While Dr. Pearce admits to some sleepless nights as they developed the metal printer, he also believes that the good to come from all types of distributed manufacturing with 3D printing will far outweigh the dangers.

In previous work, his group has already shown that making products at home with a 3D printer is cheaper for the average American and that printing goods at home is greener than buying commercial goods.

In particular, expanded 3D printing would benefit people in the developing world, who have limited access to manufactured goods, and researchers, who can radically cut the cost of scientific equipment to further their science, Dr. Pearce says. Small and medium-sized enterprises would be able to build parts and equipment quickly and easily using downloadable, free and open-source designs, which could revolutionize the economy for the benefit of the many.

"I really don't know if we are mature enough to handle it," he cautions, "but I think that with open-source approach, we are within reach of a Star Trek-like, post-scarcity society, in which replicators can create a vast array of objects on demand, resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost. Pretty soon, well be able to make almost anything."

The work is described in "A Low-Cost, Open-Source Metal 3-D Printer" ( to be published in IEEE Access (DOI: 10.1109/ACCESS.2013.2293018). The co-authors in the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Lab are Gerald C. Anzalone, a lab supervisor and research scientist in Michigan Tech's Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Chenlong Zhang and Bas Wijnen, PhD candidates in materials science and engineering at Michigan Tech; Paul Sanders, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering; and Dr. Pearce.

Michigan Technological University (http:// is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.

Microsoft's 1997 Apple Investment: The Worst Deal Of All?

BusinessWeek's Roben Farzad says that whether you're holding an old-school iPhone 4, a tooty-fruity 5c, a Shanghai-edition gold 5s, or a Calle Ocho-jailbreak especial, it's easy to forget how many stars had to align for any iPhone to happen at all.

Farzad observes that the confluence of circumstances that resulted in the $150 million lifeline Microsoft threw to Apple in August 1997, when Apple was within weeks of bankruptcy gave Apple enough money and breathing room to consolidate control of its Mac business and parlay that momentum and cash flow into the iPod and iTunes. Then the iPhone and iPad that would go on to mortally wound the entire personal computer industry, effectively zero-sum annexing continents worth of market capitalization from Microsoft's waning empire.

He notes that Microsoft, worth $556 billion at its Y2K peak, is now capitalized at $320 billion, hile Apple, worth less than $3 billion when it took Bill Gates's money; today commands a planet-leading $505 billion valuation.

He notes that Microsoft was not acting altruistically in '97 or seeking a return on invested capital, but rather hoping that keeping Apple's competitive operating system viable would also the antitrust folks off Microsoft's back, but it might qualify as the most costly investment in modern history, and if Bill Gates hadn't made that fateful deal with Apple, you might well be lugging a Pentium Zune and Surface around now or, more likely, in the year 2019.

For the full commentary visit here:

Ninja Polymers - Nanomedicine From IBM That Can Destroy Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

For decades, "superbugs" like the stubborn methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria have worried gym-goers, hospital patients and staff, and parents of schoolchildren. What's particularly troubling is that MRSA is not contained and killed by commonly available antibiotics, so, the bacteria can produce painful and sometimes deadly results for those who come in contact with it. In the United States alone, MRSA kills more than 19,000 people a year.

Now a team of scientists at IBM Research - Almaden have drawn upon years of expertise in semiconductor technology and material discovery to crack the code for safely destroying the bacteria.

Ninja Polymers

The IBM nanomedicine polymer program has looked to existing chip development research done at IBM, which identified specific materials that, when chained together, produced an electrostatic charge that allows microscopic etching on a wafer to be done at a much smaller scale.

This newfound knowledge that characterization of materials could be manipulated at the atomic level to control their movement inspired the team to see what else they could do with these new kinds of polymer structures. They started with MRSA.

The outcome of that experiment was the creation of what are now playfully known as "ninja polymers" - sticky nanostructures that move quickly to target infected cells in the body, destroy the harmful content inside without damaging healthy cells in the area, and then disappear by biodegrading.

"The mechanism through which [these polymers] fight bacteria is very different from the way an antibiotic works," explains Jim Hedrick, a polymer chemist in IBM Research. "They try to mimic what the immune system does: the polymer attaches to the bacteria's membrane and then facilitates destabilization of the membrane. It falls apart, everything falls out and there's little opportunity for it to develop resistance to these polymers."

You can watch how IBM scientists developed MRSA-killing Ninja Polymers and how artists brought them to life in an animated film here:

Vew an infographic at:

Creating A Hydrogel From The Polymers

Through the precise tailoring of the ninja polymers, IBM researchers were able to create macromolecules - molecular structures containing a large number of atoms - which combine water solubility, a positive charge, and biodegradability. When mixed with water and heated to normal body temperature, the polymers self-assemble, swelling into a synthetic hydrogel that is easy to manipulate.

When applied to contaminated surfaces, the hydrogel's positive charge attracts negatively charged microbial membranes, like stars and planets being pulled into a black hole. However, unlike other antimicrobials that target the internal machinery of bacteria to try to prevent it from replicating, this hydrogel destroys the bacteria by rupturing the bacteria's membrane, rendering it completely unable to regenerate or spread.

The hydrogel is comprised of more than 90 percent water, making it easy to handle and apply to surfaces. It also makes it potentially viable for eventual inclusion in applications like creams or injectable therapeutics for wound healing, implant and catheter coatings, skin infections or even orifice barriers. It is the first-ever to be biodegradable, biocompatible and non-toxic, potentially making it an ideal tool to combat serious health hazards facing hospital workers, visitors and patients.

Fighting Fungal Infections

The IBM scientists in the nanomedicine polymer program along with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have taken this research a step further and have made a nanomedicine breakthrough in which they converted common plastic materials like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into non-toxic and biocompatible materials designed to specifically target and attack fungal infections. BCC Research reported that the treatment cost for fungal infections was $3 billion worldwide in 2010 and is expected to increase to $6 billion in 2014.

In this breakthrough, the researchers identified a novel self-assembly process for broken down PET, the primary material in plastic water bottles, in which 'super' molecules are formed through a hydrogen bond and serve as drug carriers targeting fungal infections in the body. Demonstrating characteristics like electrostatic charge similar to polymers, the molecules are able to break through bacterial membranes and eradicate fungus, then biodegrade in the body naturally. This is important to treat eye infections associated with contact lenses, and bloodstream infections like Candida.

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