April 16, 2012
Who else has thought of using low-cost 3D printer to print reaction vessels for researchers to test chemical processes?
"I have always been interested in new ways of doing complex chemistry and exploring new reaction spaces,' explains lead researcher Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow. 'I had never used a 3D printer before but met a researcher interested in designing new objects for 3D printed architecture and got to asking them about combining it with chemistry."
Cronin built a Fab@Home, a low-cost 3D printer(~$2000) in his laboratory and used it to print reaction vessels using quick-drying silicone polymer, type of sealant typically used for bathrooms. The 3D printer was configured with two syringe tools. After printing and curing at room temperature for 12 hours, the reactionware was repeatedly washed with distilled water until all traces of acetic acid (released during curing) had been removed.
The plastic vessels are designed to influence the chemical reaction or even to take part in it. The vessel has two separate solution-holding chambers both leading to a larger mixing and reaction chamber. The 3D printer can even be used to introduce different chemical solutions into the two chambers.
The two solutions are sucked into the reaction chambers at a controlled rate by poking a needle attached to a vacuum source through the walls of the vessel. Once in the reaction chamber, the chemicals react together, while the hole made by the needle automatically closes up, leaving the vessel water-tight.
Cronin printed one vessel with catalyst-laced 'ink' and another with built-in electrodes made from skinny strips of polymer printed with a conductive carbon-based additive. The strips carried currents that stimulated an electrochemical reaction within the vessel.
The researchers tested their new labware or reactionware as they called, with both organic and inorganic chemicals and amazingly an organic heterocycle and two inorganic nanoclusters that they had never been seen before were produced.
Furthermore, simply by modifying reactionware architecture they find out reaction outcomes can be altered.
Finally, Cronin and his team showed that they could produce reaction vessels that play an active role in a chemical reaction. To do this, they simply added catalytic particles of palladium on carbon (Pd/C) to the polymer 'ink'. Pd/C is very good at catalysing hydrogenation reactions and the reaction vessel fabricated with this Pd/C-containing ink was able to convert styrene into ethylbenzene within around 30 minutes at room temperature.
This is a attractive, but unexplored, application of 3D printing. "This is a fundamentally new way of thinking, blurring the distinction between the reactor and the reaction,' said Cronin. "This is a key aspect because chemists can use CAD (computer-aided design) and reaction design together." "This approach constitutes a relatively cheap, automated and reconfigurable chemical discovery platform that makes techniques from chemical engineering accessible to typical synthetic laboratories."
Cronin is now developing "apps" that in the future researchers and even ordinary consumers could download and print a vessel. It might include a pre-programmed and fully tested chemical reaction built in.
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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