When Professor Michelle Khine began working at the University of California Merced last year, she was ready to get started with her research in microfluidic devices, but didn’t have access to a clean-room or the very expensive equipment needed to fabricate the tiny devices. With no other choice, she went MacGyver on her limited resources and found a different way to make what she needed.
Khine and her team now create their design in AutoCAD, prints it on Shrinky Dinks with a laser printer, and shrinks it in a toaster oven. The Shrinky Dinks apparently shrink faster than the ink, causing it to bulge outwards — making the whole thing a perfect mold for creating thin, rounded channels in PDMS — a clear, synthetic rubber.
As a demonstration of the usefulness of microfluidic devices created in this manner, they’ve created a functional gradient generator — a simple device that mixes two colors of food-color, creating a rainbow-like color pattern — and that Chinese Hamster Ovary cells can easily flow through them — microfluidic devices are sometimes used in biological research as well.
Atlhough this wasn’t originally her intention, Professor Khine says “This is certainly becoming a major thrust of my research.”