Aug 11, 2017 | By David

3D printing technology and microfluidics continue to develop in harmony with each other, and a recent breakthrough from a team of researchers at Utah's Brigham Young University has taken this development to an unprecedented level, as the smallest ever viable 3D printed microfluidic device has been produced. The tiny chip is capable of being effective at a scale below 100 micrometers, which is a major milestone for 3D printed microfluidics technology, and points the way forward for the devices to be mass produced.

Microfluidic chips are used to sort out disease biomarkers, cells, and other small structures in samples like blood by using microscopic channels incorporated into the devices. They have been produced before using 3D printing, but never at this scale. The team behind this innovation consisted of Greg Nordin, a BYU electrical engineering professor, Adam Woolley, a BYU chemistry professor, and Bryce Bickham, a BYU undergraduate. The research was published in the latest issue of the academic journal Lab on a Chip.

“Others have 3D-printed fluidic channels, but they haven’t been able to make them small enough for microfluidics,” Nordin said. “So we decided to make our own 3D printer and research a resin that could do it...We’re deliberately trying to start a revolution in how microfluidic devices are fabricated.”

Key to producing such tiny microfluidic devices was the construction of a new 3D printer that could print a very high resolution, as well as a low-cost, custom resin that was specifically designed for this task. The 3D printing technology they implemented was digital light processing stereolithography, and their custom-built machine had a 385 nm LED, which dramatically increased the available selection of UV absorbers for resin formulation when compared to 3D printers with standard 405 nm LEDs. This enabled the production of ‘labs on a chip’ that had flow channel cross sections as small as 18 micrometers by 20 micrometers.

According to Woolley, their work represents an improvement of a factor of 100 on the size of features that have so far been possible in 3D printed microfluidics. The use of 3D printing technology also cuts down on the amount of time and effort required to develop microfluidics chips on this scale. The new approach can create a device in 30 minutes’ time, and doesn’t require the use of clean rooms — a special lab environment free from dust and other contaminants that was a necessary part of producing microfluidics chips using conventional methods like soft lithography and hot embossing.

The work isn’t just a significant achievement from a technological standpoint, it’s also specifically geared towards practical medical application. Woolley and Nordin recently submitted a proposal to the National Institutes of Health, in order to develop their microfluidics approach the prediction of preterm births.

According to Woolley, this breakthrough could completely change the way that microfluidics devices are made and used: “It’s not just a little step; it’s a huge leap from one size regime to a previously inaccessible size regime for 3D printing,” he said. “It opens up a lot of doors for making microfluidics more easily and inexpensively.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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Greg Nordin wrote at 8/14/2017 7:50:07 PM:

Here is a link to the original BYU news release: https://news.byu.edu/news/professors-3d-print-first-truly-microfluidic-lab-chip-device And here is a link to the original Lab on a Chip article (pdf download is behind a paywall): http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2017/lc/c7lc00644f#!divAbstract A free copy of a preprint of the article can be downloaded here: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/1923/



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