Michelle Khine’s lab at UC Irvine couldn’t afford the $100K equipment to make microfluidic chips, a sheet of material with tiny channels used for certain diagnostic tests, so she made her own with Shrinky Dinks. From the MIT Technology Review:

Racking her brain for a quick-and-dirty way to make microfluidic devices, Khine remembered her favorite childhood toy: Shrinky Dinks, large sheets of thin plastic that can be colored with paint or ink and then shrunk in a hot oven. “I thought if I could print out the [designs] at a certain resolution and then make them shrink, I could make channels the right size for micro­fluidics,” she says.

To test her idea, she whipped up a channel design in AutoCAD, printed it out on Shrinky Dink material using a laser printer, and stuck the result in a toaster oven. As the plastic shrank, the ink particles on its surface clumped together, forming tiny ridges. That was exactly the effect Khine wanted. When she poured a flexible polymer known as PDMS onto the surface of the cooled Shrinky Dink, the ink ridges created tiny channels in the surface of the polymer as it hardened. She pulled the PDMS away from the Shrinky Dink mold, and voilà: a finished microfluidic device that cost less than a fast-food meal.

[via BoingBoing]

Becky Stern

Becky Stern

Becky Stern (sternlab.org is a DIY guru and director of wearable electronics at Adafruit. She publishes a new project video every week and hosts a live show on YouTube. Formerly Becky was Senior Video Producer for MAKE. Becky lives in Brooklyn, NY and belongs to art groups Free Art & Technology (“release early, often, and with rap music”) and Madagascar Institute (“fear is never boring”).

  • non e mouse

    I always love a good story about someone finding an alternative to an overpriced item. Plus a practical use for Shrinky Dinks! lol

  • Michael

    I wonder how large of a contributing factor to the sky-high R&D costs in many industries is simply the availability of capital.

  • mana

    this s amazing..
    im imagining how the people who designed 100k$ equipment would have reacted to this..
    they could not have hard time than this..

  • Mike W.

    Outstanding! Her ingenuity is incredible! This shows the power of creative thinking!

  • Nick

    That’s awesome, plus she’s way hot.

  • Dralf Pencilmore

    Shrinking dinks is an art, and she’s the art teacher. Please excuse me if I say wrong, English is not my first language.

  • Damon

    I want to marry this woman!!

  • Nikki

    I go to UCI, and I’m surprised I didn’t hear about this. This is amazing!

  • Jason

    There are a lot of college and university students and faculty that knows on what has happened on campus. There have been a few changes on my campus, and signs up for months and articles in the (free) school newspaper and still a good portion of the students had no clue.

  • Val

    Go Aardvarks!!

  • V

    But then does this mean that microfluidic diagnostic chips are a huge scam?
    If you can make one with shrinky dinks and some polymer goo, why on earth do they cost so much?

  • the dude

    Ok guys, It fantastic and she looks great. Can someone please comment on the actual fact: does this really work? I mean, if this works and microfluidic diagnostic chips can be made this way why doesn’t it rock the nation a little instead of appearing on some blog?

  • Becky Stern

    You’ll notice that the article I linked to is in the MIT Technology Review, a reputable source for news in early-stage technological discoveries.

  • Anonymous

    who cares if it works? she can do whatever she wants

  • Michelle

    The headline is completely misleading. The article does not say the chips cost $100K it says the EQUIPMENT to make the chips is $100,000.

  • Pervy McPervyson

    they should make a movie about this and let her star in it.

  • GIGrafx

    This is the way things should be… Being able to improvise with materials available. Great job!

  • real authentic jordans

    Those are great ideas; I use two or three already – esp. the one about encouragement – but I will try a couple of the others.