Pictured is a microfluidic system assembled from modular components that were fabricated using 3D printing at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Krisna C. Bhargava et al. used stereolithographic printing techniques to manufacture standardized, interchangeable, fluidic blocks of about 1 cm3 and assembled them by hand to produce variations of complex 3D circuits. Circuit behavior was predicted using design rules analogous to those used in electronic circuit design, and alleviated design limitations imposed by 2D circuit designs.
Microfluidic systems promise to improve the analysis and synthesis of materials, biological or otherwise, by lowering the required volume of fluid samples, offering a tightly controlled fluid-handling environment, and simultaneously integrating various chemical processes (applications include DNA analysis, pathogen detection, clinical diagnostic testing and synthetic chemistry). To build these systems, designers depend on microfabrication techniques that restrict them to arranging their designs in two dimensions and completely fabricating their design in a single step. This study introduces modular, reconfigurable components containing fluidic and sensor elements adaptable to many different microfluidic circuits. These elements can be assembled to allow for 3D routing of channels. This assembly approach allows for the application of network analysis techniques like those used in classical electronic circuit design, facilitating the straightforward design of predictable flow systems.
The authors devised computer models for eight modular fluidic and instrumentation components (MFICs), each of which would perform a simple task. They said that their work in developing these MFICs marks the first time that a microfluidic device has been broken down into individual components that can be assembled, disassembled and re-assembled repeatedly. They attribute their success to recent breakthroughs in high-resolution, micron-scale 3D printing technology.
Krisna C. Bhargava, Bryant Thompson, and Noah Malmstadt, Discrete elements for 3D microfluidics, PNAS 2014 111 (42) 15013-1501, doi:10.1073/pnas.1414764111