LLNL Scientists Print Glass Optics
April 3, 2018
For the first time, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory (LLNL) have successfully 3D-printed optical-quality glasses,
on par with commercial glass products currently available on the market.
A new 3D-printing technique, developed at Lawrence Livermore, could
allow scientists to print glass that incorporates different refractive
indices in a single flat optic, making finishing cheaper and easier.
In a study published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies(link
is external), LLNL scientists and engineers describe successfully
printing small test pieces from Lab-developed ink with properties
“within range of commercial optical grade glasses.”
Because the refractive index of glass is sensitive to its thermal
history, it can be difficult to ensure that glass printed from the
molten phase will result in the desired optical performance, researchers
said. Depositing the LLNL-developed material in paste form and then
heating the entire print to form the glass allows for a uniform
refractive index, eliminating optical distortion that would degrade the
LLNL researchers have reported the synthesis of 3D printed
transparent glass components using a “slurry” of silica particles
extruded through a direct-ink writing process. Pictured: LLNL chemical
engineer and project lead Rebecca Dylla-Spears and LLNL materials
engineer Du Nguyen.
"Components printed from molten glass often show texture from the
3D-printing process, and even if you were to polish the surface, you
would still see evidence of the printing process within the bulk
material,” said LLNL chemical engineer Rebecca Dylla-Spears, the
project’s principal investigator. “This approach allows us to obtain the
index homogeneity that is needed for optics. Now we can take these
components and do something interesting.”
The custom inks, aimed at forming silica and silica-titania glasses,
allow researchers the ability to tune the glass’s optical, thermal and
mechanical properties, Dylla-Spears said. For the study, researchers
printed small, simple-shaped optics as proof of concept, but Dylla-Spears
said the technique eventually could be applied to any device that uses
glass optics and could result in optics made with geometric structures
and with compositional changes that were previously unattainable by
conventional manufacturing methods. For example, gradient refractive
index lenses could be polished flat, replacing more expensive polishing
techniques used for traditional curved lenses.
manufacturing gives us a new degree of freedom to combine optical
materials in ways we could not do before,” Dylla-Spears said. “It opens
up a new design space that hasn’t existed in the past, allowing for
design of both the optic shape and the optical properties within the
The LLNL team is moving on to work on mixing and patterning the
different material compositions in hopes of getting control over
material properties and making gradient refractive index lenses. LLNL
has filed a patent on the technique and already is receiving interest
from large-scale glass manufacturers.
A Laboratory Directed Research & Development project supported the work.
LLNL researchers involved in this study include Nikola Dudukovic,
Michael Johnson, Du Nguyen, Timothy Yee, Garth Egan, April Sawvel,
William Steele, Lana Wong, Paul Ehrmann, Theodore Baumann, Eric Duoss,
Tayyab Suratwala and former LLNL researcher Joel Destino (now a
professor at Creighton University).