Mare Hirsch // Liquid-Crystal Printing

The Liquid-Crystal Printer (LCP) is a novel method for rapidly 3D printing structures via deposition and crystallization of supercooled solutions of sodium acetate trihydrate (NaCH3COO.3H2O).  Crystallization of the supersaturated salt solution is catalyzed by deposition via crystals on the prepared printing substrate or on the partially printed structure. The rapid solidification of the solution facilitates fast 3D printing of structures that can be formed using conventional layer-by-layer deposition or via direct extrusion.  Deposition process parameters provide control over print resolution and speed, as theoretically predicted by liquid-droplet ballistics.The method is capable of printing complex 3D structures, including large unsupported overhangs, that are strong enough to stand against gravity.

The speed of the LCP is a step towards real-time, additive digital fabrication that can facilitate performative contexts. Comparisons to other domains help illustrate the current lack of real-time capabilities in digital fabrication. In computer graphics, animations can be authored and rendered “offline” for later playback or rendering can occur in real-time with software such as TouchDesigner and Processing. Similarly, in computer music, composing can occur in advance for a later performance or, using software like Max/MSP and SuperCollider, can be synthesized and performed simultaneously. Due to speed constraints of conventional approaches to digital fabrication (such as consumer-grade 3D printers), real-time design and control of fabrication is not feasible. The LCP facilitates speeds amenable to real-time control of 3D printing and opens up new possibilities for performative 3D printing.

I produced a variety of creative work to explore the LCP’s ability to foster performative digital fabrication. In Re:Forming, I collaborated with movement artist brooke smiley as well as UCSB Media Arts & Technology colleagues Sam Bourgault and Philip Kobernik to create a dance and 3D printing performance. This work, funded by a Multidisciplinary Research on COVID-19 and its Impacts (MRCI) grant, utilized custom software to create a browser-based interface that could track a dancer’s 3D pose using a standard web camera. This motion data was then interpreted as machine instructions for a 3D printer and streamed to the facility housing the LCP. The result is a performance in which the dancer’s movements generate a 3D sculpture simultaneously in real-time.  

Re:Forming (in development)