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Lego blocks inspire modular microfluidics

Technology News |
By Julien Happich

Taking the original Lego design to make their bricks compatible with any standard Lego plate, the researchers 3D-printed molds with added channel features, so they would be able to cast their own parts using a silicone-based organic polymer ensuring water-tight channel junctions.

A single microfluidic basket weave with
2 layers of blocks. No leakages are visible.

Detailing their results in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering (JMM) in a paper titled “A Truly Lego®-like Modular Microfluidics Platform”, the researchers demonstrated leakage free 3D assemblies of several Lego-like microfluidics blocks, with different blocks featuring various channel functions.

Because such bricks could be easily injection-moulded, the researchers hope to democratize microfluidics by providing a library of fundamental blocks which could be assembled into complex microfluidic platforms by non-experts, as easily as traditional Legos.


“The main goal of this project was to train and educate the next generation of microfluidic developers and researchers.  By using actual Lego’s as the building block and assembly platform, our hope was to attract students as early as young as high schoolers to be interested in the field, learn about microfluidics and stimulate their imagination for new products for applications over a very wide range” wrote Co-author Professor Abraham Lee in an email exchange with eeNews Europe.

Side-view of a building block assembly on top of a Lego® base plate

So would Lee envisage to integrate some level of electronics (in-mold metallized or functionalized parts, light emitting and readout parts) to perform in-situ analysis?

“As a parent with children who grew up playing with Lego, I am aware of how Lego has expanded from pure snap-together structures to include electrical, mechanical, optical, and even fluidic parts. This is the basis and so I do envision a library with many different modular components (much like Lego) that users/students can build different functions based on their interest or application”.

Regarding a possible commercialization of the microfluidics Lego bricks, Lee wrote:

“Our original plan was to find a sponsor to develop parts that we can team up with local high schools to educate them about microfluidics by building Lego blocks initially to nurture their interest. We would like to speak to the Lego company if possible. The hope is that an educational tool-kit be developed and as it matures, students or other users may then use the tools to commercialize different applications.

Visit the University of California at https://engineering.uci.edu

 

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