A lab-on-a-chip (LOC) is an integration device with several laboratory functions
If robots are not made of solid cold metal or plastic, but of softer material, then they can be a little more attractive, and much more practical. To this, at first glance, a strange conclusion, researchers from Brown University arrived who claim that they have developed a new, previously unseen material that can be ideal, mainly for the so-called “soft robotics”. Researchers have already demonstrated that the material can put together, repair rather small, delicate, extremely jewelry items. It can also form individual microfluidic devices, sometimes referred to as “laboratories on a chip,” currently used for such things as detecting an aggressively growing cancer and producing life-saving drugs in the field.
3D hydrogel printing is a double polymer that is able to bend, curl, or stick when processed by certain chemicals. One polymer has covalent bonds that ensure the strength and integrity of the entire structure. In the meantime, another polymer has an ionic bond, which provides more dynamic characteristics, such as bending and self-adhesion. Together, these polymers are able to create a material that is soft, durable and responsive. In a word – for example, it is ideal for creating a soft, robotic hand.
The hydrogel also has the ability to become a promising base for microfluidic devices used for everything from cancer treatment to liquid watch technologies, as well as the ability to detect explosives. Until now, it has been quite difficult to model hydrogels with complex channels and chambers necessary for microfluidics. However, since this new material is printed in 3D format, it can be made in the form of stackable “LEGO-like blocks”, and a “complex microfluidic architecture” can be built into each such block. This can create a type of modular system in which blocks with different microfluidic channels can be connected together as needed.
The material is currently not ready for full-scale use. Researchers say they are still setting up polymers to get even greater strength and functionality. If they succeed in the end, then it can make the creation of soft robotic components and on-chip lab work as simple as connecting parts of a LEGO designer.