MIT’s Lego-based platform for microfluidics prototyping

Great Dome at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Wikimedia Commons/Daderot).
Great Dome at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Wikimedia Commons/Daderot).

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a novel use for Lego bricks in the field of microfluidics, an area focused on the manipulation of fluids at a submillimetre scale.

Devices used here are usually small two-dimensional chips that handle fluid around a ‘micro lab’. The researchers instead used micromilled Lego blocks that each carry out a specific function, allowing them to set-up multiple system configurations with the same parts. You can see a video of the process here.

At the moment, the team has made bricks that can manipulate biological fluids, sort and filter fluids, and encapsulate molecules in individual droplets. They hope that the Lego bricks can help speed-up the prototyping process for microfluidic devices.

“Our method provides an accessible platform for prototyping microfluidic devices,” says Anastasios John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “If the kind of device you want to make, and the materials you work with, are suitable for this kind of modular design, this is an easy way to build a microfluidic device for lab research.”

There are some draw-backs to the idea. Currently, the researchers are limited to milling channels tens of microns wide in the Lego bricks, whereas some operations in microfluidics require far smaller ones. The bricks also cannot withstand certain chemicals that are sometimes used in microfluidic operations.

Crystal Owens, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering says that the group has been working with coatings that could possibly make them compatible with more liquids, adding that “LEGO-like bricks could also be made out of other materials, such as polymers with high temperature stability and chemical resistance.”

The study is called ‘High-precision modular microfluidics by micromilling of interlocking injection-molded blocks’ and was published in Lab on a Chip 12 December 2017.

See the full press release here.

Great Dome at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Wikimedia Commons/Daderot).