Chemputer: Downloading Chemicals War and Peace: “Chemputer” Produces Tailor-Made Medicine – or Drones
It sounds like a scene from a science fiction movie: A newly developed method produces customized molecules in the reactor according to a building plan – to some extent the 3D printer for chemistry. Although the “Chemputer” was actually supposed to synthesise customized medicine, British defence and aerospace multinational BAE has secured the method. Now drones are expected to be developed in the chemical bath.
Producing drones in the chemical bath: The British defence group BAE Systems is working on this vision along with scientists of the University of Glasgow. But not as 3D printing with physical processes like pasting, melting or hardening, but through chemical reaction from customized molecules.
Name of the method: Chemputer. In the future, or so one hopes at BAE, unmanned aircraft (so-called drones) could be synthesised according to their future use areas. The basic structure of the future drones, but also parts of the complex on-board electronics and switching circuits, could be produced in the reactor within a few weeks, hope the persons responsible for the project.
Properties like high speed or radar absorbing surfaces would be defined before-hand - as if from a wish-list. This would accelerate the expensive development and growth of such missiles considerably, BAE expects. Complex shapes could be produced in the tank within a few weeks.
Though the method still belongs to the realm of the future, the British sound confident enough to present the project within at the Farnborough Airshow, one of the biggest aviation fairs of the world. In future, one should also be able to produce parts of manned aircraft this way.
How Does the Chemputer Work?
The vision of downloading the drone will possibly be realised through the researches of a team of 45 scientists around Prof. Lee Cronin of Glasgow University, which has been working for four years on the combination of 3D printing and chemistry. Cronin, who characterizes himself as a “control freak in rehab” has altered conventional 3D printers in Glasgow in such a way that they can not only print small reaction chambers, but also meter chemicals and reagents accurately. This way it is possible to produce a reaction, and eventually a product with a formula from the computer.
Chemistry becomes digital: How drones and aircraft components are supposed to be produced in the reactor is illustrated by this BAE video:
An exact control of the reaction kinetics is possible through the fact that the printer does not only control the reagents and their sequencing and metering, it also defines the size and form of reaction chambers, says Cronin. “Conventionally the reactor is just the passive space or the environment in which a reaction takes place. The printer allows it to be a far more active context”, explained the Scotsman to the English Guardian. The options would be quasi infinite, if it can now integrate catalyst molecules in the walls of the reaction chamber.