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The world's smallest 3D printed fluid circuit component


A team of engineers at the University of Maryland (UMD) used new nano-printing technology to develop the world's smallest 3D printed fluid circuit component. The 3D printed fluid circuit diode measures only one-tenth of the width of a human hair, helps liquid flow in a single direction in a microfluidic device, and can be used in implantable devices to release drugs into the body in a controlled manner.

The world's smallest 3D printed fluid circuit component

Scientists around the world have been exploring and advancing the 3D nano-printing process to create miniature medical devices and systems on a chip. However, up to now, due to the challenge of extremely precise fluid control faced by printed microfluidic devices, the technology has been limited to a certain extent in terms of scale. In other words, although these devices can be manufactured on a small scale, printing features on a small scale as recently demonstrated is too expensive and challenging.

The breakthrough microfluidic spiral coil spring diode from UMD uses an in-situ direct laser writing process (inDLW) for 3D printing, which is not bound by the same cost and complexity challenges as existing systems. The innovation strategy was jointly developed by Ryan Sochol, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering at UMD, and graduate students Andrew Lamont and Abdullah Alsharhan.

This new technology uses a process called sol-gel to completely fix the diode on the wall of a micro-scale channel 3D printed from ordinary polymer materials. Tiny diodes can be printed directly in the channel from top to bottom using a layer-by-layer method. The engineer explained that this technology produces a "completely sealed 3D microfluidic diode" that is faster and cheaper to produce than equivalent parts made using other methods.

The microfluidic diode is further improved by reshaping the wall of the microchannel to further improve the outward taper, which ensures a stronger seal. A strong seal is necessary because it protects the circuit from being affected and ensures that the fluid in the device is only released when expected.

"Previous methods required researchers to spend a lot of time and cost to build similar components," Sochol explained. "Now, researchers can 3D nanoprint complex fluid systems faster, cheaper, and with less labor."

He added: "Just as the shrinking of circuits has completely changed the field of electronics, the ability to drastically reduce the size of 3D printed microfluidic circuits has laid the foundation for a new era in fields such as drug screening, medical diagnosis, and microrobotics."

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