Inventors of the Month - April 2017

This article was posted on: April 17, 2017

Xiaoyu “Rayne” Zheng and the Advanced Manufacturing and Metamaterials Laboratory

“A Method for Large Area, Multi-Material Additive Manufacturing and Its Use on Producing Programmable Multi-Materials with Complex Hierarchical Micro-Architectures”

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes the Advanced Manufacturing and Metamaterials Laboratory, led by Xiaoyu “Rayne” Zheng, as Inventors of the Month for April 2017 for the invention “A Method for Large Area, Multi-Material Additive Manufacturing and Its Use on Producing Programmable Multi-Materials with Complex Hierarchical Micro-Architectures,” disclosed to Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc.

3D printing has exploded in recent years as a fast and inexpensive method for developing prototypes as well as for manufacturing products, saving material and labor costs by eliminating traditional tooling. However, implementation of additive manufacturing has been restrained because most 3D printers can work with only one type of material, such as plastic, metal, ceramic, wood, or a biological material with homogenous properties. Additionally, the trade-off between resolution, build volume and speed have limited the types of products that can be fabricated with 3D printing.

Compared with the most advanced 3D printer on the market, Zheng’s technology allows for faster speed, larger area (>5 cm), and higher resolution (1 micron), plus the ability to print with multiple materials. Using his novel, low-cost 3D printing systems, the group has sucessfully fabricated a range of hierarchical micro-structures with material ranging from polymer to metal and high-temperature ceramics, including microfluidics chips (Lab-on-Chip), also known as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) in biomedical and biological applications (BioMEMS). These highly specialized chips, consisting of complex 3D microstructures, are typically individually fabricated and packaged in clean rooms, a proess which is expensive and time-consuming.

The invention allows for additive manufacturing of complex miniaturized chips containing components of different materials, actuators, energy absorbing materials, optical waveguide, antenna, and photonic devices, all in one printing cycle. While BioMEMS is a good first test of the system, the potential industry applications span a vast range of products in photonics devices, structural components, fuel cells, battery electrodes, optics, microfluidics, microrobotics, as well as designed cell and tissue engineering scaffold.

Multi-material 3D architected materials

3D Printed polymer microchip

High-temperature ceramic microlattice

Multi-scale nickel alloy hierarchical material


Inventor Rayne ZhengRayne Zheng, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, directs the Advanced Manufacturing and Metamaterials Laboratory, and holds an affiliate position at the Macromolecules and Innovation Institute and Department of Material Science and Engineering. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Zheng was at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, where he worked on disruptive additive manufacturing initiatives and materials with controlled micro-architectures (DARPA MCMA). He and his team developed the world's lightest materials capable of holding more than 160,000 times their own weight. He received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Boston University in 2011 with Best Dissertation Award for using optical moire interferometry for studying pico-newton biological forces.

Zheng’s research group houses a suite of high-resolution optical additive manufacturing platforms capable of producing a range of multi-scale structures of arbitary 3D features with sub-micrometer precisions, as well as a precisely combining an unlimited number of materials with distinct property signatures, such as thermal expansion coefficient, modulus, stiffness, and thermal conductivity. Students who have started to conduct research in Zheng’s group include co-inventors, M.S. graduate student Da Chen, graduate researchers Huachen Cui and Matthias Karch, and senior undergraduate researchers Adam Sharrow, Aaron Brown, Harris Pearson, and Xihui Wu.

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