Accessible Microfluidics Devices With Ultimaker

Researchers at Cardiff University use 3D printing to create small devices that move small volumes of fluid and are used in various areas of research. 3D printing makes it possible to share the devices with other researchers, making the study of microfluidics more accessible to a wider audience. The 3D printed devices offer a cost-effective alternative to the traditional ones, which are expensive and require specialized skills and equipment. As technology advances and more materials become available, the application of 3D printing in microfluidics research continues to grow.

Microfluidics research

Microfluidic devices are small-scale circuits that are used to study the behavior of fluids in small volumes. The devices consist of small tubes that deliver small volumes of fluid to different sensors and other actuators in the circuit. Conceptually, they can be compared to plumbing systems that are reduced in size, onto a chip. The techniques used to create these microfluidic devices largely coincide with techniques used in the microelectronics industry to make the electronic chips in our computers and phones.

Microfluidic devices are used to make, for example, artificial cells for pharmaceuticals development, nuclear fusion targets for fusion energy production, and alginate capsules with neuronal stem cells inside to transplant into people with damaged spinal cords.

Traditionally, making these microfluidic devices was an expensive, lengthy and sophisticated process, requiring different types of expertise and using specialized equipment. The adoption of 3D printing significantly sped up this process, made it a lot cheaper, and allowed for the devices to be made on the spot in the research lab.

Microfluidics research studies the behavior of small volumes of fluid – Source: Ultimaker

3D printing microfluidic devices

Using their Ultimakers, researchers at Cardiff University now 3D print the microfluidic devices they use in their studies. The 3D printed devices are based on a modular system that consists of standard building blocks that are assembled together. Starting off with a number of standard components (tubings, junctions, etc.), the research team developed different types of microfluidic systems and used those designs to make a modular system that any other researcher can use to make their own microfluidic devices.

3D printing gives rise to significant cost savings over the traditional methods and allows for rapid iterations on the design of the microfluidic devices. Since the designs can easily be shared with researchers in different locations, microfluidics research becomes accessible to other researchers as well. As David Barrow, Research Professor at Cardiff University, explains:

The simple purchase of a 3D printer means that as long as one is able to draw out an object in a suitable file format, using a wide range of available software tools, it is a relatively easy thing to print the object, and indeed make many revisions, relatively rapidly.
Alex Morgan, Research Associate at Cardiff University, points out that other researchers previously discounted the use of 3D printing to create microfluidic devices as they were non-transparent and often leaked. By optimizing the print settings, however, Alex found that by printing in 50-micron layers and at a print speed of 30mm a minute, devices can be printed that are both transparent and water-tight. The research group’s recent publication explains how to do this.
After printing, the different parts of the microfluidic device are assembled – Source: Ultimaker

3D printing in research

3D printing makes it possible to share the designs of microfluidic devices with other researchers so that they can print them out in their own lab, perform their tests and report back the results. In this way, microfluidics becomes accessible for other researchers that otherwise may not be using it.

As the 3D printing industry evolves, applications of 3D printing in research continue to grow. As Oliver Castell, Group leader for Membrane Biophysics and Engineering explains, as the diversity of available materials increases and the precision of the machines improves, it becomes possible to incorporate not only microfluidics but also optical and electronic components in one device. This will yield multi-functional devices made from different materials.

The role of 3D printing in research is expanding with these technological advancements. Take a look at Ultimaker’s explore pages for more applications of 3D printing in research.

Source: Ultimaker

Esp8266 WebServer farm

An Esp8266 WebServer farm project by Eldon Brown’s (a.k.a WA0UWH)

After several long months, I have reactivated my Esp8266 WebServer Farm.
Currently, one of my WebServers can be accessed as:

Esp8266 WebServer farm – [Link]

Wafer-scale-packaged integrated FET switches handle 1 – 4A

by Graham Prophet @

Silego Technology has developed a series of integrated power switches for use in mobile and battery powered products, to carry out power gating of functional blocks within a design; the devices come in sub-mm-size chip scale packages, handle currents from 1 to 4 A, and integrate functions such as in-rush current limiting and over-current or thermal protection.

Wafer-scale-packaged integrated FET switches handle 1 – 4A – [Link]

Jump Over The Limits of ARM With ExaGear Desktop

While the most of Linux programs are compiled to run on Intel x86 processors, the virtualization softwares appear to give the ability to run Intel x86 application on ARM-based Mini PC such as Raspberry Pi.

In this way, Eltechs, a high-tech startup company, had produced a new binary translator called “ExaGear Desktop”. It runs applications for the conventional desktop and server x86 processors on energy-efficient ARM CPU without recompilation.

ExaGear Desktop creates a second system known as the ‘guest’ system. Once installed, you can switch between the guest and your regular (‘host’) system using the ExaGear and exit commands. Inside the guest system, apt-get and dpkg are used to install Intel x86 software. The guest system is a transparent operation so there is no difference between running x86 applications on x86-based or ARM-based platform. It also gives you the ability to run Windows applications by installing Wine.

ExaGear is compatible with many of ARM-based Mini PCs such as Raspberry Pi 1, Raspberry Pi 2, ODROID, CubieBoard, CuBox, Utilite, Jetson TK1, Wandboard, Banana Pi etc. It also can run on Chromebook with Linux.

Compared with QEMU, another open-source virtualization software, ExaGear is  5 time faster and has  much better performance with CPU and memory as the benchmark results shown when running on Raspberry Pi 2. You can see the benchmarking details and results here.

ExaGear is available for ordering through the official website with a price range between $16.45 and $56.45 according to the hardware used. You can find more information at the product page. And it may be useful to take a look at this review.

Tiny ESP8266 Breakout Board

Stavros made a very small ESP8266 breakout board:

A very small breakout for the ESP8266. Includes all necessary pullups/pulldowns for it to boot to your code, a LDO regulator, a 3V3 output pin and enough breadboard space for one row on each side on a standard breadboard.

Tiny ESP8266 Breakout Board – [Link]

Keysight MXA signal analyzer / Spectrum analyzer review, analysis & experiments

Keysight MXA revision-b signal analyzer / Spectrum analyzer review, analysis & experiments from The Signal Path:

In this episode Shahriar reviews the long awaited Keysight MXA Signal Analyzer (N9020B). The new X-Series Spectrum Analyzers from Keysight offer an entirely re-designed GUI interface which supports multiple tabs as well as multi-touch interaction.

Keysight MXA signal analyzer / Spectrum analyzer review, analysis & experiments – [Link]

InGaAs TFET, a potential alternative to MOSFET in future ultralow power chips

by Graham Prophet @

Belgian researchers from imec, at a conference** dedicated to compound semiconductor technology, are to present promising device results with a InGaAs-only TFET (tunnel field-effect transistor) that achieves a sub-60 mV/decade sub-threshold swing at room temperature.

snapVCC – A snap-on regulated 3.3 V/5 V power supply

by Mahesh Venkitachalam @

I use 9 V batteries for a prototyping a lot of my electronics projects. I was inspired by the Sparkfun breadboard power supply board, and wanted to create something similar, but with a more convenient form factor for use with a 9V battery. The design I came up with, is a tiny snap-on PCB with the regulator components on one side, and 9V battery contacts on the other. The idea is that the power supply will become part of the battery.

snapVCC – A snap-on regulated 3.3 V/5 V power supply – [Link]

Zero W, New €10 Raspberry Pi with WLAN and Bluetooth

Five years ago (on 29 February 2012, to be exact) the original Raspberry Pi was unveiled – on this celebrated first day the available stock was sold out within a few minutes, more than 100,000 boards were ordered and the Farnell and RS Components web stores where down for while because of the high demand…
To celebrate this fifth anniversary the Raspberry Pi Foundation introduces a new product: the Raspberry Pi Zero W, that is, the Raspberry Pi Zero complete with WLAN and Bluetooth. The bad new is that this version costs twice as much as the original Zero, but the good news is that it is nevertheless available for only $10 (without accessories).

The Zero was launched in November of 2015 and has since then acquired a camera connector; these days you could hardly imagine anything or contains a Zero – from miniature fruit machines tot electric skate boards.
A disadvantage of the original Zero was the limited connectivity: the only USB port was often used for a wireless dongle; for connecting peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse and network adapter a USB hub was required, which often cost more than the Zero itself.
By integrating the Cypress CYW43438 on the board this problem is solved for the Zero W: this is the same chip that on the RPi 3 model B provides the 820.11n WLAN and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Listing all the features of the Zero W:

  • 1 GHz single-core CPU
  • 512 MB RAM
  • mini HDMI port
  • micro-USB On-The-Go port
  • micro USB power
  • HAT-compatibele 40-pin header
  • headers for composite video and reset
  • CSI camera connector
  • 802.11n WLAN
  • Bluetooth 4.0

The Zero W is accompanied by an ‘official’ enclosure.
This has three interchangeable lids: a closed lid, a lid with openings for the GPIOs, and a lid with opening and attachment facility for a camera.

Source: Elektor

PCB-Investigator Now Supports Browser-Based PCB Design Review

PCB-Investigator is a CAD software developed by EasyLogix for circuit board design and PCB quality assurance. Its latest version came earlier in February with a new browser interface that enables electronics assemblers to do PCB review processes without the need for local installation.

By using the ODB++ data format, PCB-Investigator creates a common database, which documents every change, and is accessible to everyone involved in the development, quality assurance and production process. With the software’s comprehensive visualization, export and import capabilities, all layout reviews are easier. Errors can be fixed earlier and prototypes can be reduced. Further improvements in version 8.0 are an improved component library with editor capability as well as clearance and creepage distance measurement.