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Doctoral engineering student incorporates 3D printing technology into bioengineering project

Elisabeth Weems | Mar 26, 2018

Doctoral engineering student incorporates 3D printing technology into bioengineering project

Elisabeth Weems | Mar 26, 2018

A Russ College doctoral student is breaking the mold by using 3D printing to create medical monitoring devices that can detect abnormalities in utero.

The only researcher to do so at OHIO, electrical engineering and computer science doctoral student Parthiban Rajan, MS ‘12, is using 3D-printed molds to make lab-on-a-chip (LOC) devices, giving him unique, interdisciplinary career preparation, and bringing peace of mind to new parents.

LOC devices are commercially-available, simple blood glucose monitors, often used to detect abnormalities during pregnancy. In order to analyze a body fluid sample for the presence of a target molecule, miniature fluidic channels (microfluidics) inside the device transport the fluid to the sensor, which registers changes as electrical signals. These signals are then processed and displayed on the device’s screen.

“By exploiting the electrical characteristics of biological cells, we will be able to detect abnormalities in a biological cell with the varying electrical potential and fields distinct to every cell,” said Rajan, who is working at the OHIO Innovation Center.

Rajan, who gained experience with device fabrication during while pursuing his master’s degree at OHIO, said using 3D printing technology to create solid objects from digital files has been an efficient and cost-effective method -- and that it exemplifies the practical marriage of engineering and technology.

“We used to have a complex chemical/optical method to create this base mold design,” Rajan said. “3D printing technology has lowered the cost, material and time in designing and fabricating this microfluidic channel, and has boosted our productivity multifold.”

After making the mold from a resin called Verowhite, Rajan mixes an elastomer called PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane, a polymer with elastic properties) -- with a curing agent which he then degases and pours onto the 3D-printed mold to create a microfluidic channel. The channel is then cured, cut and bonded to create the LOC sensors.

The technology has other applications, as well: Rajan is also developing a water-quality test sensor to detect harmful ions present in water supplies.

Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Savas Kaya said Rajan’s research has benefits beyond his initial goals.

“Parthiban is a hardworking and focused scholar-in-training who enjoys testing out new technologies and sensors to advance microfluidics technology,” Kaya said. “While his use of 3D printing allowed him to become more productive and work at a lower cost, his research project actually circles back to making the environment safer and biomedical research projects more productive in general. It will be a win-win for interdisciplinary research.”

Rajan said that his new interdisciplinary knowledge has expanded  his scientific repertoire.

“Without creativity and thinking out of the box, no new ideas can be implemented easily,” he said.

The 3D printer at the Innovation Center is an Objet350 Connex from Stratasys, the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in the region, and is available for any student, including artists, engineers and entrepreneurs, to use.

Colleen Carow contributed to this story.