Researchers have 3D printed the first prototype of a bionic eye which could one day be surgically implanted into people.
To begin with, the experts took a hemispherical glass dome to demonstrate how they could print electronics on a curved surface.
Using a 3D printer which was custom-made for the job, they added a base ink of silver particles and printing ‘photodiodes’ – semiconductors that convert light into electricity which allows the ‘eye’ to have vision.
Trials of the eye found the semiconductors could convert light into electricity with 25 percent efficiency.
Michael McAlpine, a co-author of the study and University of Minnesota Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, said: “Bionic eyes are usually thought of as science fiction, but now we are closer than ever using a multimaterial 3D printer.
“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.
“Plus, we can easily print a semiconducting device on a curved surface, and they can’t.”
The next step in the research is to create a better prototype which has even more light receptors that are more efficient.
Another stage of the study will see the team print on softer materials which will allow the bionic eye to be a better fit for the real eye socket.
For Mr McAlpine, the research is close to home and is driven by personal reasons.
He said of the study published in the journal Advanced Materials: “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?’.”