A new 3D printer will significantly lower the cost of creating nanofiber meshes, eliminating the need for clean rooms that had been needed before.
Nanofiber meshes are used in a variety of applications, including tissue engineering and solar panels.
This new process will not only lower the cost of producing nanofibers, it will also, as a consequence, expand the potential applications for nanofibers.
The creation of nanofiber meshes is useful in a wide range of applications, from water filtration to tissue engineering to solar energy. But the conditions needed to make the meshes can often be hard to obtain: an airlocked clean room has traditionally been required for accurate mesh fabrication, making the process impractical and even impossible for many research purposes.
A new 3D printed device, developed by researchers at MIT, could be about to make nanofiber mesh creation simpler, cheaper, and more accurate.
The tiny microfluidic device consists of an array of small nozzles through which a fluid mixture containing polymer particles can pass. The nozzles are arranged into two rows, slightly offset from one another, which enables the fabrication of aligned nanofibers.
Such aligned nanofibers are particularly useful for tissue scaffolding, but the device can also be adjusted to accommodate unaligned nanofibers, which actually speeds up the process considerably.
The MIT researchers involved in the research strongly believe that simple 3D printed devices like this nozzle system can radically shake up the practice of nanofiber creation, or “electrospinning.”
“My personal opinion is that in the next few years, nobody is going to be doing microfluidics in the clean room,” said Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories and senior author on the group’s new research paper. “There’s no reason to do so: 3D printing is a technology that can do it so much better.”
One big advantage of additive manufacturing is that, by 3D printing the new microfluidic device, the MIT researchers were able to quickly test and revise new designs.