U-M: Starfish-like Crystals may Advance LEDs, Pharmaceuticals

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Following an accidental discovery in 2010, engineers at the University of Michigan have now perfected the creation of crystals that mimic the texture of starfish shells that may be useful in advanced applications of LEDs and solar cells.

What’s more, the method used to develop the crystals — called organic vapor jet printing, or spray painting with a gas rather than with a liquid — might lend itself to 3-D printing medications that absorb better into the body and make personalized dosing possible, says Max Shtein, a U-M associate professor, who helped to develop the printing process when he was in graduate school.

The engineers first stumbled upon the curved crystals when Shaurjo Biswas, then a doctoral student at U-M, was making solar cells with the organic vapor jet printer. During the printing, he noticed the outgoing material was forming ordered shapes.

“At first, we wondered if our apparatus was functioning properly,” Shtein says. But after recreating the scenario, the U-M researchers were able to retrace their steps and figure out the process.

Shtein says the printing process is less expensive and easier to work with for certain applications for LEDs and solar cells.

A published paper detailing the findings can be found in the current edition of Nature Communications.

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