Dr. Martin D. Burke and a team of chemists at the University of Illinois may have brought us one giant step closer to 3D printing on the molecular level. Small molecules are the low molecular weight organic compounds that make up such things as pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, and electronic components like LEDs and photovoltaic solar cells. A paper on Burke and company’s printer, recently published in Science, explains the machine’s import:
The machine automatically synthesizes new small organic molecules by welding together premade building blocks that can be put together in any configuration. Two hundred such building blocks already exist. And thousands of other similar molecules can also be used in the process. As a result, the machine has the ability to make billions of different small organic compounds that can then be tested as new drugs or for other uses. If widely adopted, the synthesis machine could revolutionize organic chemistry, turning it from a slow, painstaking process to a made-for-order business.
As this article on 3D Print puts it: “The potential this machine could have for new rapid drug discovery as well as new chemically spawned technologies could be staggering. Imagine a website like Thingiverse, where instead of open sourcing 3D design files for printing, you could open source medications and other chemicals.”