Lab Legos

3-D printed components allow researchers to construct custom-made instruments.

Jul 20, 2016
Kerry Grens

Example of an instrument built using Multifluidic Evolutionary ComponentsUC RIVERSIDEA team of bioengineers has designed a suite of 3-D printed laboratory instruments that can fit together in any number of combinations to form bespoke apparatus. Their so-called Multifluidic Evolutionary Components (MECs) work like Legos, with each building block performing a particular function for the machine, such as pumping fluids, mixing solutions, or sensing pH.

“As a proof-of-concept, we use MECs to build a variety of instruments, including a fluidic routing and mixing system capable of manipulating fluid volumes over five orders of magnitude, an acid-base titration instrument suitable for use in schools, and a bioreactor suitable for maintaining and analyzing cell cultures in research and diagnostic applications,” the authors wrote in their report, published in PLOS ONE today (July 20).

Douglas Hill, a postdoc at the University of California, Riverside, who led the project, was inspired by his years working in electronic design. “When Doug came to UC Riverside, he was a little shocked to find out that bioengineers build new instruments from scratch,” Hill’s advisor, William Grover, said in a press release. “He’s used to putting together a few resistors and capacitors and making a new circuit in just a few minutes. But building new tools for life science research can take months or even years. Doug set out to change that.”

The blocks are designed to easily connect with one another on all four sides and the interfaces between blocks allow for the passage of fluid, electricity, or light.

Two school districts in California will try out MECs in their engineering classes. “By using our blocks, the students can receive an engineering experience by designing, building, and refining their instruments, and also a science experience as they use their instruments to learn about biology and chemistry,” Grover said in the statement.

YOUTUBE, UC RIVERSIDE