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Legos inspire versatile fluid-filled devices

9:00am, January 26, 2017

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.

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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.


K. Vittayarukskul and A.P. Lee. A truly Lego®-like modular microfluidics platformJournal of Micromechanics and Microengineering. Vol. 27, January 24, 2017, p. 035004. doi: 10.1088/1361-6439/aa53ed.

Further Reading

T. Siegfried. Playing with building blocks for metamaterial design. Science News. Vol. 189, April 16, 2016, p. 12. 

P. Weiss. The ups and downs of routing fluids on chips. Science News. Vol. 170, August 26, 2006, p. 142.

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