Oct 9, 2015 | By Benedict

Researchers from the Laboratory of BioNanoTechnology at Wageningen University, Netherlands, have developed a new and inexpensive method for fabricating microfluidic devices, without the use of expensive materials or clean room facilities. The researchers, Dr. Vittorio Saggiomo and Dr Aldrik H. Velders, have dubbed the new technique ESCARGOT: Embedded SCAffold RemovinG Open Technology. The processes involves the use of a 3D printer and ABS plastic to develop a 3D, intricate, multilayer, micrometric channels in a single layer of PDMS.

Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is the most popular material in research laboratories for the fabrication of microfluidic devices, but it is restrictive for several reasons. For one, the typical method of fabrication, which involves clean room lithography of silicon wafers, is complicated and requires a certain level of expertise. Another obstacle to PDMS fabrication is the necessity of fabricating several parts which must then be sealed together. Saggiomo and Velders have devised a 3D printing method which eliminates both of these problems: it is surprisingly simple, and requires no assembly of multiple parts.

ESCARGOT works in the following way: the intricate microfluidic channels are designed and 3D printed in ABS, the same plastic used to build Lego bricks. Working inversely, the printed pieces will ultimately become the hollow parts of the final product. The ABS channels are placed in a petri dish, which is then filled with PDMS, the preferred material for microfluidic devices. Once cured, the PDMS turns into a firm, jellylike state. Adding acetone to the petri dish dissolves the ABS, leaving a hollow channel running through the block of PDMS. After air is pumped through the channels to remove any excess, the microfluidic device is complete.

There are several advantages to the ESCARGOT method over previous equivalents. For one, no clean room is required. Secondly, lighting, heating or cooling elements can be integrated directly into the PDMS before curing, which makes the procedure much simpler. The process is cheap, and provides numerous opportunities for researchers to experiment with new modifications and techniques.

Although use of a 3D printer facilitated the researchers’ new technique for fabricating microfluidic devices, it also happens to be the biggest limitation to the process. The thinnest that a 3D printer can print is 100 micrometers, and Saggiomo and Velders occasionally need to produce even finer structures than this. On the plus side, most microfluidic devices have a channel size of 100 or 200 microns, which a 3D printer is able to handle.

The researchers are constantly trying to improve their method. They are working on an all-in-one microfluidic box with integrated controller and supramolecular / nanoparticle-based sensors. Saggiomo and Velders’ full findings can be found over at Wiley. Watch this space for updates.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications





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