Magazine article American Scientist

Microsized Architecture

Magazine article American Scientist

Microsized Architecture

Article excerpt

Nо known structures in the human body look like this swirling set of tubes. But the capacity to create them with an inner diameter smaller than 10 micrometers is critical to making better models of the body's structures. Researches use such models for a wide variety of biomedical purposes, including pharmaceutical testing. But modeling capillaries, for example, which vary between 5 and 10 micrometers and withstand significant fluidit pressures, is a challenge.

To my knowledge," says Ryan Sochol, "our approach offers the only way to create microfluidic tubules or vessels that have circular cross sections [as capillaries do] and tortuous architectures in the sub-100 micrometer range."

Sochol is a University of Maryland engineer whose team made this orderof-magnitude fabrication improvement with a type of three-dimensional printing called direct laser writing. His team published on the technique earlier this year in Scientific Reports and twice In Lab on a Chip. Direct laser writing uses special liquids that cure, or polymerize, when struck with light. Making sub-100 micrometer devices required femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second) laser pulses, which limit the number of photons striking and hardening the material. "Afterward," says Sochol, "you get rid of the liquid, and the only thing that remains is the hardened object."

Washing in successive liquids and curing them one by one enables Sochol and his team to create microdevices made from multiple materials, as this scanning electron microscope image depicts (it is falsely colored to highlight multiple material types). …

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