BYU professors, students develop a ‘lab on a chip’

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Over the last year BYU was recognized worldwide for biomedical chips smaller than the size of a coin.

When most people think of a lab, they think of people in a white coat in a large room. But because of BYU’s new technology, a lab can be smaller than a grain of rice. BYU professors and students are shrinking the size of a medical laboratory from a room full of machines to a coin-sized chip.

“Normally the whole notion of lab on a chip is you take a biomedical laboratory and shrink it down to a chip,” BYU engineering professor Greg Nordin said.

Yellow lights are required to keep the liquids that the chips are made with from becoming solid, or in other words, from pulverizing. These chips are capable of detecting pre-birth determination, test blood and much more.

It’s not the chip itself that is making history, but the process that BYU is taking to manufacture the chips. BYU developed a way to 3D print the chips on micro scales.

“We are always pushing the boundaries of what is possible. So what we are doing is world-leading,” research assistant Matthew Viglione said.

The lab is printing pumps and valves that are smaller than a tenth of the diameter of a human hair.

“We have all the printers where people actually do the printing of the devices themselves,” research assistant Hunter Hinnen said.

The first promising lab on a chip produced through 3D printers was made in 2017.

“By the time we got to making things really small, we had spent a lot of time and effort to get there, you know multiple years and realized ‘yeah, this is going to work,'” Nordin said.

The aim of the lab is to revolutionize the process of making chips that previously required a “clean room” that eliminates dust particles that damage the chip.

“Ultimately what we would love to do is see universities, research labs, and companies get rid of their clean rooms and replace it with 3D printing. Our aim really is to revolutionize the whole space,” Nordin said.

Although these chips are really small, they are an open door to the science and medical fields.

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