Jan 28, 2019 | By Cameron

A team of engineers at the University of Maryland have created the smallest-ever 3D printed fluidic circuit element. Fluidic circuits are a lot like electrical circuits, where different components of a circuit board control and direct the flow of fluid/electricity. They’re used in medical devices that deliver drugs and handle blood flow, but they’re also found in organ/system-on-a-chip models used to research new treatments for various illnesses. Nowadays, most drugs are tested on organ-on-a-chip models that simulate human reactions before making it to actual human trials.

The accuracy of the reactions of a system-on-a-chip are dependent on how well the model mimics the system it’s simulating, which is somewhat reliant on how well the geometry and scale match. Generally, a system-on-a-chip is orders of magnitude larger than its real counterpart simply because fabricating vessels as small as they exist in our bodies is incredibly difficult. But the UMD team has found a method of quickly and affordably 3D printing fluidic circuits so small they could fit on the width of a human hair.

Their method employs in situ direct laser writing (isDLW), which “involves placing a droplet of immersion oil between the objective lens and the bottom of the glass substrate to maintain the focal path of the laser. All microstructures were printed in a “ceiling-to-floor”, point-by-point, layer-by-layer process.” It’s a rather complex process, but in short they 3D printed a diode inside a channel that was previously 3D printed by using a femtosecond laser to cure a photopolymer.

The size of the fluidic circuits is critically important. “Just as shrinking electric circuits revolutionized the field of electronics, the ability to dramatically reduce the size of 3D printed microfluidic circuitry sets the stage for a new era in fields like pharmaceutical screening, medical diagnostics, and microrobotics,” stated Ryan Sochol, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and bioengineering at UMD.

Direct ink writing (DIW) is extrusion based and could not create features smaller than 100 microns. “This really put a limit on how small your device could be,” remarked Lamont, a bioengineering student who developed the approach and led the tests as part of his doctoral research. “After all, the microfluidic circuitry in your microrobot can’t be larger than the robot itself.”

“Where previous methods required researchers to sacrifice time and cost to build similar components, our approach allows us to essentially have our cake and eat it too,” Sochol said. “Now, researchers can 3D nanoprint complex fluidic systems faster, cheaper, and with less labor than ever before.” You heard it from a scientist, 3D printing let’s us have our cake and eat it too, a feat no other technology has achieved.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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