Legos inspire versatile fluid-filled devices

microfluid device made of lego-like blocks

LEGO LIQUIDS Scientists molded Lego-like blocks with channels inside to transport small amount of liquids through microfluidic devices. The bricks can be rearranged to create new devices various purposes.

K. Vittayarukskul and A.P. Lee/Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering 2017

Legos have provided the inspiration for small, fluid-ferrying devices that can be built up brick by brick.

Tools for manipulating tiny amounts of liquid, known as microfluidic devices, can be used to perform blood tests, detect contaminants in water or simulate biological features like blood vessels. These portable devices are small, about the size of a quarter.

Fabricating such devices is not easy. Each new application requires a different configuration of twisty little passages, demanding a brand new design that must be molded or 3-D printed.

To make construction easier, scientists at the University of California, Irvine created Lego-style blocks out of a polymer called PDMS. The bricks have half-millimeter-wide channels that allow liquid to flow from brick to brick with no leaks (shown above). New devices could be created quickly by rearranging standard blocks into various configurations, the scientists report in the March Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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