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(Pocket-lint) - 3D printed things are always cool and just when you thought they couldn't get any more impressive researchers have printed microscopic ones. Not just static objects either, but minuscule vessels that can move under their own steam. 

These incredible 3D printed objects came about as part of the research into microswimmers - microscopic organisms that can move through liquids. 

They are created to allow scientists and researchers to study and understand naturally occurring organisms like white blood cells, bacteria, sperm and more. 

Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands used a microscopic 3D printer to create a number of microscopic forms. These include one that looks like Fusilli pasta, a vessel that resembles the USS Voyager and a tiny tug boat.

Leiden UniversityScientists have 3D printed a microscopic Star Trek vessel photo 2

The tug boat itself is remarkable as it's a well-known torture-test or benchmarking tool for 3D printing generally. Researcher, Daniela Kraft, explained why when talking to Gizmodo about it:

"3D Benchy is a structure that has been designed to test macroscopic 3D printers because it has several challenging features, and it was natural to also try it at the micrometer scale...In addition, making a swimming micrometer-sized boat is fun."

The microscopic 3D prints are impressive not just because of their size or shape, but also because they move through liquid via means of a chemical reaction. 

The study could result in further advancements in future:

"...It opens the door to studying and quantifying shape-dependent motion of active microswimmers, their interactions and collective behavior, but also navigation in complex environments that rely on alignment through shape-induced torques. These particles might also be employed to gain a better understanding of the propulsion mechanism, and help in the understanding of biological microswimmers and active matter. Ultimately, it will allow a greater control and design of the behavior of synthetic microswimmers, useful for applications in therapeutic diagnostics and drug delivery."

Fascinating stuff. 

Writing by Adrian Willings. Originally published on 4 November 2020.