true colours

True colours

UEA’s Dr. Matthew Alexander is carrying out cutting-edge research on novel ‘nanoelectrospray’ printing technology that has an extraordinary range of potential applications.

The technology involves printing miniscule amounts of liquid with unprecedented accuracy due to a highly controlled jetting technique that is operated using electric voltage waveform and without the need for physical pumps or an actuation mechanism. This new technique – currently being researched and developed by engineers at UEA and QMUL – is simple in principle but the technology presents a number of engineering challenges when introduced to different possible contexts, of which there are very many.

This is in contrast to inkjet printing, where the ejection of ink from each nozzle is controlled by a miniature pump or actuator which adds significant cost and complexity to the device.

As a result, single drops of fluid – not just ink – can be released that are less than ten microns in size, with the potential to print dots of close to a single micron, with extremely high precision. This would be a ten-fold increase on current inkjet printing capability, with the added advantage of low costs and greater versatility in terms of the liquids it is possible to print with.

Simple in principle, the technology presents a number of engineering challenges when introduced to different possible contexts, of which there are very many.

Dr. Alexander and his team are working on proof-of-concept prototypes that demonstrate the technology’s efficacy for super high-resolution printing of a variety of materials.

The basic capillary technology has been in development for around ten years, but it is only now that scientists are refining its execution in order to realise such advanced outcomes. Although in its early stages at UEA, the research efforts are intended to make this technology more accessible to other researchers, businesses and even the general public in the near future.

Electrospray printers could eventually be used in homes and offices worldwide, while everything from touchscreens to solar panels could be manufactured with once unimaginable precision.

The Expert

DR MATTHEW ALEXANDER

LECTURER IN ENERGY ENGINEERING
SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS

My key research interests are in electrostatic drop-on-demand printing, modeling and simulation of electrospray systems, electrospray atomisation of fuels for efficient low emission combustion and microcombustion applications and micro- and nano-emulsion production.