Just when you've thought about all the ways 3D printing could revolutionise industries across the world, something new pops up and pretty much blows your mind, such as a new 3D printer from a chemist at the University of Illinois.

Martin Burke has published a study in the journal Science that announces the specs of a 3D printer that can synthesise thousands of different molecules from scratch. According to Popular Mechanics, it can even reproduce rare chemicals, including ratanhine, which is produced in the roots of the Peruvian flower and contains anti-fungal medicinal properties. Ratanhine is hard to get ahold of, but 3D printing can change that.

Burke's machine can not only make ratanhine, but also a dozen other related chemicals that have never been synthesized before by humans, opening up the door for scientists to test the medicinal properties of a whole molecular family. Burke said many natural molecules have extraordinary natural properties, but they're incredibly hard to make and aren't available to purchase in a lab-supply catalogue.

Although scientists have long been required to custom build molecules, Burke's system has modulated the step-by-step process and made it possible to create molecules and radically different molecules. It simplifies the complex process of synthesising chemical into steps, clears away the reaction's byproducts, and builds each molecule from the ground up. But the clean-up method is actually what makes the printer unique.

The clean-up involves a universal way for the printer to isolate all desired molecules from undesired byproducts. It's all rather complicated sounding, but the end result is a 3D-printing process that is able to manufacture thousands of different chemicals in 14 distinct classes of small molecules. Depending how many steps are involved during the process, a molecule's synthesis may occur within a matter of hours.


The new 3D chemical printer is just a prototype and can only print a limited number of chemicals, but Burke has envisioned it being used to develop new drugs and rapidly synthesise molecules that would reportedly take a trained chemist years to craft. He even hopes to see it in the hands of consumers one day.

"Giving the general population the ability to synthesize these molecules would be [game-changing] in ways I can't even imagine," Burke said.