An Open-Source Microfluidic Pump For Your Science Needs

When it comes to research in fields such as chemistry or biology, historically these are things that have taken place in well-financed labs in commercial settings or academic institutions. However, with the wealth of technology available to the average person today, a movement has sprung up of those that run advanced experiments in the comfort of their own home laboratory. For those needing to work with very tiny amounts of liquid, [Josh’s] microfluidics pump may be just the ticket.

Consisting of a series of stepper-motor driven pumps, the hardware is inspired by modern 3D printer designs. The motors used are all common NEMA items, and the whole system is driven by the popular Marlin firmware. The reported performance is impressive, delivering up to 15 mL/min with accuracy to 0.1uL/min. That’s a truly tiny amount of fluid, and the device could prove highly useful to those exploring genetics or biology at home.

The great thing about this build is that it’s open source. [Josh] took the time to ensure that it was easily moddable to work with different tubing and materials, such that others could spin up a copy using whatever was readily available in their area. Performance will naturally vary, but if you’re experienced enough to build a microfluidic pump, you’re experienced enough to calibrate it, too. Design files are on Github for those keen to build their own.

We’ve seen other builds in this area before, too. We look forward to seeing some fun science done with [Josh]’s build, and look forward to seeing more DIY science gear in the future!

This Camera Captures Piezo Inkjet Micro-Drops For DIY Microfluidics

In microfluidics, there are “drop on demand” instruments to precisely deposit extremely small volumes (pico- or nano-liters) of fluid. These devices are prohibitively expensive, so [Kyle] set out to design a system using hobbyist-level parts for under $1000. As part of this, he has a fascinating use case for a specialized camera: capturing the formation and shape of a micro-drop as it is made.

There are so many different parts to this effort that it’s all worth a read, but the two big design elements come down to:

  1. Making the microdrop using a piezo element
  2. Ensuring the drop is made correctly, and visually troubleshooting
Working prototype. The piezo tube is inside the blue piece at the top. The camera is to the right, and the LED strobe is on the left.

It’s one thing to make an inkjet element in a printer work, but it’s quite another to make a piezoelectric element dispense arbitrary liquids in a controlled, repeatable, and predictable way. Because piezoelectric elements force liquid out with a mechanical motion, different liquids require different drive signals and that kind of experimentation requires a way to see what is going on, hence the need for a drop observation camera.

[Kyle] ended up taking the lens assembly from a cheap USB microscope and mating it to his Korukesu C1 USB Camera with a 3D printed assembly. Another 3D printed enclosure doubles as a lightbox, holding the piezo tube in the center with the LED strobe and camera on opposite sides. The whole assembly had a few false starts, but in the end [Kyle] seems pretty happy with his results. The device is briefly described at a high level here. There are some rough edges, but it’s a working system.

Inkjet technology has been around for a long time (you can see a thirty-plus year old inkjet printer in action here) but it’s worth mentioning that not all inkjet heads are alike. Most inkjet printer heads operate thermally, which means a flash of heat vaporizes some ink to expel a micro-drop. These heads aren’t very suitable for microfluidics because not only do they rely on vaporizing the liquid, but they also don’t work well with anything other than the ink they’re designed for. Piezoelectric print heads are less common, but are more suited to the kind of work [Kyle] is doing.

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!

Direct download (67.6 MB of audio splendor)

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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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