Hackaday Podcast Ep16: 3D Printing With Steel, Molding With Expanded Foam, QUIP-Package Parts, And Aged Solder

Join editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys to recap the week in hardware hacking. This episode looks at microfluidics using Shrinky Dinks, expanding foam to build airplane wings, the insidious effect of time on component solder points, and Airsoft BBs used in 3D printing. Finishing out the episode we have an interview with two brothers who started up a successful business in the Shenzhen electronics markets.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Making Microfluidics Simpler With Shrinky Dinks

It’s as if the go-to analogy these days for anything technical is, “It’s like a series of tubes.” Explanations thus based work better for some things than others, and even when the comparison is apt from a physics standpoint it often breaks down in the details. With microfluidics, the analogy is perfect because it literally is a series of tubes, which properly arranged and filled with liquids or gasses can perform some of the same control functions that electronics can, and some that it can’t.

But exploring microfluidics can be tough, what with the need to machine tiny passages for fluids to flow. Luckily, [Justin] has turned the process into child’s play with these microfluidic elements made from Shrinky Dinks. For those unfamiliar with this product, which was advertised incessantly on Saturday morning cartoon shows, Shrinky Dinks are just sheets of polystyrene film that can be decorated with markers. When placed in a low oven, the film shrinks about three times in length and width while expanding to about nine times its pre-shrunk thickness. [Justin] capitalized on this by CNC machining fine grooves into the film which become deeper after shrinking. Microfluidics circuits can be built up from multiple layers. The video below shows a mixer and a simple cell sorter, as well as a Tesla valve, which is a little like a diode.

We find [Justin]’s Shrinky Dink microfluidics intriguing and can’t wait to see what kind of useful devices he comes up with. He’s got a lot going on, though, from spider-powered beer to desktop radio telescopes. And we wonder how this technique might help with his CNC-machined microstrip bandpass filters.

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Open Source Biological Gear For The Masses

At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, Hackaday exists because people are out there building and documenting open source gadgets. If the person who built a particular gizmo is willing to show the world how they did it, consider us interested. Since you’re reading this, we’ll assume you are as well. Over the years, this mentality has been spreading out from the relatively niche hacker community into the greater engineering world, and we couldn’t be happier.

Case in point, the Poseidon project created at the California Institute of Technology. Developed by students [Sina Booeshaghi], [Eduardo Beltrame], and [Dylan Bannon], along with researcher [Jase Gehring] and professor [Lior Pachter], Poseidon consists of an open source digital microscope and syringe pump which can be used for microfluidics experiments. The system is not only much cheaper than commercial offerings, but is free from the draconian modification and usage restrictions that such hardware often comes with.

Of course, one could argue that major labs have sufficient funding to purchase this kind of gear without having to take the DIY route. That’s true enough, but what benefit is there to limiting such equipment to only the established institutions? As in any other field, making the tools available to a wider array of individuals (from professionals to hobbyists alike) can only serve to accelerate progress and move the state of the art forward.

The Poseidon microscope consists of a Raspberry Pi, touch screen module, and commercially available digital microscope housed in a 3D printed stage. This device offers a large and clear view of the object under the microscope, and by itself makes an excellent educational tool. But when running the provided Python software, it doubles as a controller for the syringe pumps which make up the other half of the Poseidon system.

Almost entirely 3D printed, the pumps use commonly available components such as NEMA 17 stepper motors, linear bearings, and threaded rods to move the plunger on a syringe held in the integrated clamp. Controlled by an Arduino and CNC shield, these pumps are able to deliver extremely precise amounts of liquid which is critical for operations such as Single-cell RNA sequencing. All told a three pump system can be built for less than $400 USD, compared to the tens of thousands one might pay for commercially available alternatives.

The Poseidon project joins a relatively small, but very exciting, list of DIY biology projects that we’ve seen over the years. From the impressive open source CO2 incubator we saw a few years ago to the quick and dirty device for performing polymerase chain reaction experiments, there’s little doubt about it: biohacking is slowly becoming a reality.

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See The Fabulous Workmanship In This Smart Pressure Regulator

For many projects that require control of air pressure, the usual option is to hook up a pump, maybe with a motor controller to turn it on and off, and work with that. If one’s requirements can’t be filled by that level of equipment and control, then it’s time to look at commercial regulators. [Craig Watson] did exactly that, but found the results as disappointing as they were expensive. He found that commercial offerings — especially at low pressures — tended to leak air, occasionally reported incorrect pressures, and in general just weren’t very precise. Out of a sense of necessity he set out to design his own electronically controlled, closed-loop pressure regulator. The metal block is a custom manifold with valve hardware mounted onto it, and the PCB mounted on top holds the control system. The project logs have some great pictures and details of the prototyping and fabrication process.

This project was the result of [Craig]’s work on a microfluidics control system, conceived because he discovered that much of the equipment involved in these useful systems is prohibitively expensive for small labs or individuals. In the course of developing the electronic pressure regulator, he realized it could have applications beyond microfluidics control, and created it as a modular device that can easily be integrated into other systems and handle either positive or negative pressure. It’s especially well-suited for anything with low air requirements and a limited supply, but with a need for precise control.

MIT Makes Lego Lab For Microfluidics

As any good hacker (or scientist) knows, sometimes you find the tools you need in unexpected places. For one group of MIT scientists, that place is a box of Lego. Graduate student [Crystal Owens] was looking for new ways to make a cheap, simple microfluidics kit. This technique uses the flow of small amounts of liquid to do things like sort cells, test the purity of liquids and much more. The existing lab tools aren’t cheap, but [Crystal] realized that Lego could do the same thing. By cutting channels into the flat surface of a Lego brick with a precise CNC machine and covering the side of the brick with glass, she was able to create microfluidic tools like mixers, drop makers and others. To create a fluid resistor, she made the channel smaller. To create a larger microfluidic system, she mounted the blocks next to each other so the channels connected. The tiny gap between blocks (about 100 to 500 microns) was dealt with by adding an O-ring to the end of each of channel. Line up several of these bricks, and you have a complete microfluidic system in a few blocks, and a lab that only costs a few dollars.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Microfluidics Control System

Microfluidics is the fine art of moving tiny amounts of liquid around and is increasingly used in fields such as biology and chemistry. By miniaturizing experiments, it’s possible to run many experiments in parallel and have tighter control over experimental conditions. Unfortunately, the hardware to run these microfluidic experiments is expensive.

[Craig]’s 2017 Hackaday Prize entry involves creating a microfluidics control system for use by researchers and students. This device allows for miniaturized experiments to be run. This allows more projects to be run in parallel and far more cheaply, as they don’t use as many resources like reagents.

[Craig]’s rig consists of an ESP32, a 40-channel IO expander, 3 pressure regulators tuned to different pressures, and around 2 dozen solenoid valves mounted to manifolds. Solutions are moved around with a combination of two pumps, with one providing positive pressure and one serving as a vacuum pump.

Far cheaper than professional microfluidics systems, [Craig]’s project aims to assist biohackers and underfunded researchers in their pursuits.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Wearable Micro Pump Treats Your Fever For You

Would you strap a tiny pump to your body and let it dose you with medication based on your current vital signs? Most people wouldn’t, while some would appreciate the convenience, and many have no choice. [M. Bindhammer]’s 2017 Hackaday Prize entry, dubbed Sense-Aid, seeks to democratize the drug delivery process somewhat by building a sensor package linked to a tiny surface-mount pump into a single wearable device.

His chosen initial therapeutic area is fever, given that it’s easy to diagnose non-invasively with a simple thermistor and straightforward to treat with antipyretics like acetaminophen. Aside from the obvious regulatory hurdles such a device would face, he’s got a bunch of technical challenges to address. Surprisingly, sourcing a surface-mount pump is not one of them, although finding a medication to pump with it is. Anecdotally, a professor acquaintance of ours used to relate his sure-fire hangover cure: an aspirin tablet dissolved in the polar aprotic solvent dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and absorbed directly through the skin for immediate relief. The story may have been apocryphal, and it certainly sounds like a bad idea, but such solvents may be one way of pumping medications non-invasively.

Obviously, this is only a concept at this point, as [M. Bindhammer] hasn’t even built a prototype yet. But that’s exactly what the first phase of the 2017 Hackaday Prize is all about: Design Your Concept. It may seem like a crazy idea, but at least it’s an idea, and that’s the first step. Have you submitted your idea yet? There’s still plenty of time.