3D-Printed LEGO-Like Blocks Open Access to Costly Lab Technologies – ENGINEERING.com


July 28, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ 3D Printed Articles


Douglas Hill, a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) under Assistant Professor of Bioengineering William Grover, has developed a LEGO-like system of 3D-printed blocks for creating research tools on the fly. Dubbed Multifluidic Evolutionary Components (MECs), Hill’s 3D-printed modules can be used for performing tasks for chemical and biological research, such as pumping fluids or making measurements.

MEC modules can be assembled into complex research instruments for macro- and microfluidics and more. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

MEC modules can be assembled into complex research instruments for macro- and microfluidics and more. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

Assembly of an MEC system begins with a set of symbols representing a wide variety of functional, physical modules. Acting as a common language between MEC designers and users, these symbols are used to draw up a schematic of which modules will ultimately form the basis of a given lab instrument or setup. The actual MEC modules, which feature connectors on their bases, are then assembled onto a 3D-printed board, perforated by a variety of connector holes, to match the schematic.

The individual components are made up of a combination of off-the-shelf and custom-made items. While resistors, photocells and syringes might be purchased from a supplier, various valves and fixtures are 3D printed. In the case of the UCR team, a Stratasys Dimension Elite fused deposition modeling 3D printer and a Formlabs Form 1+ stereolithography printer were used to 3D print these parts. For the microfluidic modules, however, the group cast components from silicone. In total, 50 students from across UCR developed more than 200 MEC blocks and associated schematics for research and lab tools.

Three of the instruments assembled include a fluidic router, acid-basetitrator and bioreactor. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

Three of the instruments assembled include a fluidic router, acid-basetitrator and bioreactor. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

The UCR team was able to configure a number of different instruments using the MEC system. These included a fluidic router for directing liquids, an acid-base titration tool that might be used in chemistry classes to measure the equilibrium constant of an acid or base and a bioreactor for culturing yeast cells. The MEC system, however, is meant to evolve as users create new modules and setups. For now, the team has demonstrated MECs for mixing fluids and growing cells, but, in the future, it might be possible to develop more elaborate systems for a wide variety of applications.

According to UCR Today, Grover and Hill will bring the MEC system to two school districts in California, where they will test the viability of the platform for teaching science education in K-12 classes. The ultimate goal of the project is to make the platform affordable to underserved communities. Hill explained, “As 3D printers become more mainstream, we’ll see them being used by schools and nonprofits working in underserved communities, so ultimately we would like people to be able to use those printers to create their own MEC blocks and build the research and educational tools they need.”

One of the unique benefits that 3D printing offers for educational institutes, citizen scientists and underfunded clinics is the ability to produce low-cost equipment on demand. Open-source and 3D printing pioneer Joshua Pearce has demonstrated in numerous ways how the technology can both save researchers money and increase accessibility to lab equipment through his studies with Michigan Technological University.

Detailing his work on open-source, 3D-printed lab equipment in a book titled Open-Source Lab: How to Build Your Own Hardware and Reduce Research Costs, Pearce provides step-by-step instructions on fabricating affordable research tools for any lab. These include an open-source syringe pump that requires only about $100 in materials, compared to traditionally manufactured counterparts that range from $260 to $1,509 in price. Ultimately, Pearce suggests that this tool alone can, over time, result in over $800 million in savings for a research institution.

Douglas Hill, a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) under Assistant Professor of Bioengineering William Grover, has developed a LEGO-like system of 3D-printed blocks for creating research tools on the fly. Dubbed Multifluidic Evolutionary Components (MECs), Hill’s 3D-printed modules can be used for performing tasks for chemical and biological research, such as pumping fluids or making measurements.

MEC modules can be assembled into complex research instruments for macro- and microfluidics and more. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

MEC modules can be assembled into complex research instruments for macro- and microfluidics and more. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

Assembly of an MEC system begins with a set of symbols representing a wide variety of functional, physical modules. Acting as a common language between MEC designers and users, these symbols are used to draw up a schematic of which modules will ultimately form the basis of a given lab instrument or setup. The actual MEC modules, which feature connectors on their bases, are then assembled onto a 3D-printed board, perforated by a variety of connector holes, to match the schematic.

The individual components are made up of a combination of off-the-shelf and custom-made items. While resistors, photocells and syringes might be purchased from a supplier, various valves and fixtures are 3D printed. In the case of the UCR team, a Stratasys Dimension Elite fused deposition modeling 3D printer and a Formlabs Form 1+ stereolithography printer were used to 3D print these parts. For the microfluidic modules, however, the group cast components from silicone. In total, 50 students from across UCR developed more than 200 MEC blocks and associated schematics for research and lab tools.

Three of the instruments assembled include a fluidic router, acid-basetitrator and bioreactor. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

Three of the instruments assembled include a fluidic router, acid-basetitrator and bioreactor. (Image courtesy of PLOS ONE.)

The UCR team was able to configure a number of different instruments using the MEC system. These included a fluidic router for directing liquids, an acid-base titration tool that might be used in chemistry classes to measure the equilibrium constant of an acid or base and a bioreactor for culturing yeast cells. The MEC system, however, is meant to evolve as users create new modules and setups. For now, the team has demonstrated MECs for mixing fluids and growing cells, but, in the future, it might be possible to develop more elaborate systems for a wide variety of applications.

According to UCR Today, Grover and Hill will bring the MEC system to two school districts in California, where they will test the viability of the platform for teaching science education in K-12 classes. The ultimate goal of the project is to make the platform affordable to underserved communities. Hill explained, “As 3D printers become more mainstream, we’ll see them being used by schools and nonprofits working in underserved communities, so ultimately we would like people to be able to use those printers to create their own MEC blocks and build the research and educational tools they need.”

One of the unique benefits that 3D printing offers for educational institutes, citizen scientists and underfunded clinics is the ability to produce low-cost equipment on demand. Open-source and 3D printing pioneer Joshua Pearce has demonstrated in numerous ways how the technology can both save researchers money and increase accessibility to lab equipment through his studies with Michigan Technological University.

Detailing his work on open-source, 3D-printed lab equipment in a book titled Open-Source Lab: How to Build Your Own Hardware and Reduce Research Costs, Pearce provides step-by-step instructions on fabricating affordable research tools for any lab. These include an open-source syringe pump that requires only about $100 in materials, compared to traditionally manufactured counterparts that range from $260 to $1,509 in price. Ultimately, Pearce suggests that this tool alone can, over time, result in over $800 million in savings for a research institution.

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