A Technology Coming Soon to Nano – Part 2

In yesterday’s blog, the topic of 3-D printing was raised.  The blog finished with the promise that today we would cover the 3-D printing application to food.  Isn’t this the concept of the “Food Replicators” in Star Trek?  Even if one could create food, wouldn’t it require all types of material control to ensure the “food” was safe?  Is it even possible to create food through printing?

Let’s start simply.  The picture below is different structures created from printing sugar [1].  Sugar is a good material to work with 3-D printing due to the ability to be able to form it as long as there is a slight amount of moisture.  These structures are impossible to make by etching sugar away from a block due to the inherent weakness of the sugar cube.


Okay, sugar is a simple construct, but it is a part of food that we use.  So the next question is can anyone make “real” food that requires cooking or baking?  The picture below is of a finished cake, which was baked, that has designs printed into the dough prior to being baked [2].


Chocolates have been done and can be formed in many different shapes.  Other cakes have been created that only reveal the true design when they are cut and show letters imbedded within the cake.  So the response is that is interesting, but how about the more difficult foods.  The picture below is based on a new texture of corn dough developed by David Arnold of the International Culinary Centering using a technique created at Cornell University.  The process makes the corn dough porous, which allows the oil in a hot fryer to reach within the object [3].



What does the future look like?  This still is not the Food Replicator that Star Trek has.  The answer is of course not, at least not yet.  In March 2013, the Small Business Innovative Research award was given to Systems and Materials Research Consultancy in Austin Texas to continue development of the basic elements of such a system.  The following description is from reference 4.

  • Using unflavored macronutrients, such as protein, starch and fat, the sustenance portion of the diet can be rapidly produced in a variety of shapes and textures directly from the 3D printer (already warm). Since basic sustenance will not ensure the long term physical and mental health of the crew, this is where the microjetting will add value. In addition to adding flavor, low volume micronutrients will be added as the food is processed by the 3D printer.
  • The macronutrient feed stocks will be stored in dry sterile containers and fed directly to the printer. At the print head, these stocks will be combined with water or oil per a digital recipe to minimize waste and spoilage. Flavors and texture modifiers can also be added at this stage. This mixture is blended and extruded into the desired shape.
  • The micronutrients and flavors are stored in sterile packs as liquids, aqueous solutions or dispersions. SMRC’s approach not only addresses uniform long term storage, sustenance, and micro-nutrition, but also variable and changing dietary needs, variety, and boredom.

So what does printing food have to do with nanotechnology?  Actually, there are a number of similarities required for control of the basic constituent parts of each.  The first item is the control of the materials.  There is a need for verification of the material properties, size, purity, etc.  The quality control and record keeping will be critical to ensuring the end result is what it is required to be.  There is also the training involved, the specialized equipment, the storage of the materials, and many other items.  But, what is needed for nanomaterials, is also required for materials that will end up as food.

There is much more to this topic, but I will leave you to think about the beginnings of this emerging area of scientific (and gastronomical) endeavor.  There is additional work being done in this area that may provide enough material for a blog in 2014.


[1]       http://www.wired.com/design/2013/06/sugar-lab-prints-sweet-sculptures/

[2]      Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=i6XASxni0I0  & http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XQni3wb0tyM

[3]      http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/adventures-in-printing-food

[4]      http://sbir.gsfc.nasa.gov/SBIR/abstracts/12/sbir/phase1/SBIR-12-1-H12.04-9357.html?solicitationId=SBIR_12_P1

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Category(s): Uncategorized

Leave a Reply