Annalisa Chiappone is a Material Engineer, Ph.D. in Materials Science from Politecnico di Torino; her doctorate, in collaboration with the “Centre Technique du Papier” in Grenoble, was focused on lingo-cellulosic materials for the development of reinforced polymer electrolytes for lithium batteries applications. In 2012 Annalisa moved to the Italian Institute of Technology(IIT), Center for Sustainable Future Technologies, as a post-doc researcher Until 2015 her research activity was mainly focused on polymeric materials and composites for energy or electronic applications, exploiting the photopolymerization and light-induced functionalization processes. Since 2015 her research topic has moved to the development of new 3D printable formulations for SLA/ DLP technologies. She is author of about 30 papers on international peer-reviewed journals and 2 book chapters; science communication is one of her interests.

Annalisa, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?

I am a materials engineer, I obtained my Master degree in 2008 from Politecnico di Torino with a final project on polymers so, my complete background is on materials and polymers science. During my Ph.D. (2009-2012 Politecnico di Torino) I worked on the development of photocurable polymeric membranes reinforced with cellulose to be used as electrolytes in Lithium-ion batteries. After the end of my Ph.D., I moved to the Italian Institute of Technology in Torino (IIT) where I worked on polymers and polymer composites for energy and electronic applications, always exploiting the photopolymerization technique.

Thanks to the knowledge developed in the photopolymerization field I was chosen, together with some colleagues, for the “polymeric 3D printing team” born in IIT since the beginning of 2015. My work is focused on the development of photocurable formulations for DLP and SLA printing.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

In February 2015 we bought our first DLP for the lab, it was a machine from Robotfactory, a small Italian producer. The owner of that small factory was like a funny inventor and during the training and the first tests he gave us a lot of suggestions and smart pieces of advice for our future work on new materials, so it was funny and exciting since the beginning.

Can you tell us more about your current research?

In my opinion, the development of new and advanced materials suitable for the different existing printing techniques plays a fundamental role in the new industrial revolution linked to additive manufacturing.

My research is focused on the development of new printable materials bearing intrinsic functionalities (e.g. electrical conductivity, mechanical strength, optical properties, biocompatibility…). The materials that I study are envisaged for the printing technologies based on solidification upon exposure to a light source, and, in particular, for digital light processing (DLP). With such a technique, it is possible to tailor the final properties of the printed object by simply changing or charging the reactive liquid formulations, we can conceive a large variety of systems for the production of structures with advanced properties and functions.

The addition of nano fillers to the formulations, for example, could surely help in reaching the desired functionalities but, at the same time, it could strongly modify the printing process introducing new issues: increased solution viscosity, limited light penetration depth, nanoparticles dispersion, and stability. Considering this, the precise balance among the properties of the formulations has to be studied or, in alternative, some post-processes on the printed part could be exploited to in-situ generate the desired functionality.

What kind of new materials can we expect from this work?

A wide range of different materials: from conductive composite materials to functional formulations suitable for printing devices for biomedical applications, as well as materials for CO2 capture.

What exactly is your area of expertise in this research work?

I always worked on photocurable polymers, so my expertise consists in knowing (or at least finding out) the right ingredients to obtain the desired functionalities in the printed objects and to tailor the formulations characteristics such as viscosity, light absorption, reactivity…in order to allow an easy printability.

Do you have a favorite machine and material?

Well, as clear my favorite machine is my DLP and, if I can talk about “my” materials, among the photocurable ones that I developed with my colleagues, I prefer the in-situ generated silver nanocomposites.

Adding a silver precursor to a photocurable formulation we were able to generate silver nanoparticles inside the printed objects trough a UV post treatment. The obtained pieces had an improved electrical conductivity and a really nice silver-like aspect.

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman researcher?

Since my studies as an engineer, I got used to being alone among men but actually, I have to say that up to now I never felt discriminated or underestimated. I was lucky to find on my way honest men and strong women that helped me.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

Yes, I’ve been invited to attend and give a talk at the Additive Manufacturing and Functional Materials Symposium that will be held tomorrow at the University of Washington, in Seattle. It is a fantastic chance to discuss with other people from academia and industry from all around the world about the latest advances in 3-D printing and to share ideas and opinions. I can’t wait!

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

I am strongly impressed by all the applications of 3D printing in biomedical; in my opinion, this is a field in which 3D printing will become a fundamental technique and it will deeply improve human life quality and possibilities.

I saw a work published in Nature Materials by the group of Prof. Lewis in which 3D printing was exploited for the development of instrumented cardiac microphysiological devices that are envisaged for in vitro tissue engineering and screening research. It’s not yet a 3D printed heart…but we are one step closer to this and in my opinion, this is impressive!

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?

Its potential merged with its versatility. 3D printing is nowadays still embarking on all the possible applications that it could have in the world but I am sure that thanks to its versatility it will find its usefulness in almost all the fields.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

I live in the academic world, so I am not fully inside the 3D industry but from my point of view, I can see that there are many possible developments for this industry and I am sure that 3D will be on the edge of innovation and technology in the future. 3D will surely influence our lives on all the levels from business to production to our everyday life.

What is essential in my opinion is to continue to improve on the 3 main fields that are: machines technology, design, and materials in order to be sure to remain on the top of innovation.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

3D Printing is a new and fresh field in which people with completely different backgrounds can meet and collaborate, this is extremely stimulating. It’s a fertile field in which creative women could find their place.

 Thank you for reading and for sharing! 

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