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Fasten your seatbelts, Star Trek fans, because we just might be one step closer to having our very own replicators––right here on Earth!

In Star Trek lore, a replicator is a machine capable of creating (and recycling) objects. You can see one in action below, during an episode of Star Trek Enterprise.

Star Trek Replicator

That's not to be confused with the food synthesizer seen on Star Trek: The Original Series, by the way.

Star Trek Replicator

We might be one step closer to turning science fiction into reality thanks to a new development in 3D printing technology. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have devised a new 3D printing process that doesn't necessarily "print" the object––instead, it pulls it from a gooey liquid that hardens when hit by a certain intensity of light.

The research, first published in Science, found that:

The liquid is poured into a transparent cylinder and placed in front of a projector. Using a 3D model of the object to be replicated, a computer tells the projector what patterns to beam onto the cylinder as the container rotates.

This process hardens specific areas of the gel, creating a rigid 3D shape within the liquid which can then be removed. The result is a smooth object with greater detail than you'd normally see from something produced by a 3D printer.

The researchers have nicknamed their new creation "the replicator" for its ability to create smooth, flexible objects––an upgrade from the typically rough, jagged objects seen in regular 3D printing.

"Basically, you've got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D-printing resin in it," Hayden Taylor, senior author of the research, said in a statement.

He added: "Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it—how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high."

You can see it in action below:

Watch 3D printed objects appear in the middle of a gel

People are intrigued, without a doubt:

We personally can't wait until we've taken ill and can watch a bowl of chicken noodle soup materialize before our eyes. The sky's the limit.


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