Generating networks of 3D microchannels – applications in microfluidic devices and soft robotics
Channels, tunnels and tubes – life relies on vessels to move fluids around, with our circulatory system transporting cells, chemicals and warmth all over the body. Biomedical engineers often mimic this pipework to learn about the physics involved, but also to watch commuting cells adapting to travel inside. Here researchers overcome a hurdle to more ambitious 3D designs for their networks of microchannels. First, they allow a plastic material to set around wire-like templates of soft resin. Once set, they pull out the templates which become thinner as they stretch, peeling away from the inside of each tube gently, where a solid wire might split or crack the design. They are left with these networks of channels – examples of how this 'soft demoulding' process could be adapted for microfluidic devices, or even used in the pneumatic systems of soft robots designed to help around the body.
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