Heinrich Jaeger, Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, is using a 3D printer to investigate experimental condensed matter. If you've ever seen a junkyard car condensed down into a small metal block you have a pretty good idea of what Professor Jaeger is doing.
He works with something much smaller than cars however. Jaeger's process is called "Particle Jamming". He crushes down different particles until they fuse and then tests the fused material for strength, flexibility and friction.
Right now Professor Jaeger and his students are in search of ideal shapes, starting particles that will condense down to produce super strong or super flexible materials. The materials they discover could one day be used to construct buildings, create new packaging material, or make pretty much any item you can think of into a stronger or more flexible version of itself. Before they can get into practical applications however, Jaeger and his students still have to identify some very useful and perfectly crushable shapes.
Over the last few years Jaeger has used a veritable army of graduate students. He asks them to prepare different particle shapes and then he tests out their ideas. The process is time consuming and Jaeger's research was limited by the amount of help he had. That's where his new 3D printer comes in.
Jaeger is using a Stratasys Objet350 Connex multi-material 3D Printer to quickly create thousands of different particle shapes for testing, effectively eliminating the army of grads. He has also been working with graduate student Marc Z. Miskin to design a software program that generates new ideas for particle shapes. Now Jaeger's lab has the ability to come up with new particle designs quickly and have the physical results in their hand the next day. Jaeger told Stratasys that he was surprised at how quickly the Objet could produce batches of 10,000 particles. He just sets the printer up and lets it work all night. When he comes in the next morning he cleans off the particles and they go straight into testing.
You can learn more about Jaeger's process and see his new Objet in action here: