This figurine of Jedi master Yoda from the film Star Wars was made by 3D printing, a technology that’s developed extremely fast over recent years. Layer upon layer of melted plastic is carefully built up, according to computer instructions, to create incredibly complex, intricate shapes. Other materials can also be used, such as metal, wax or ceramics. Now scientists are looking to harness the power of 3D printing to make the most complex shapes of all – human tissues and organs, made up of billions of microscopic cells joined together by sticky molecular 'glue' and plumbed with delicate blood vessels. It's tricky, because living cells are fragile and can be damaged by the printing process, but new techniques are being developed all the time. Although it may sound like the stuff of science fiction, 3D printing could provide a vital source of transplantable organs in the not-too-distant future.
Written by Kat Arney