Printing Reactionware

Source: Nature

From the article:

Three-dimensional (3D) printing has the potential to transform science and technology by creating bespoke, low-cost appliances that previously required dedicated facilities to make. An attractive, but unexplored, application is to use a 3D printer to initiate chemical reactions by printing the reagents directly into a 3D reactionware matrix, and so put reactionware design, construction and operation under digital control. Here, using a low-cost 3D printer and open-source design software we produced reactionware for organic and inorganic synthesis, which included printed-in catalysts and other architectures with printed-in components for electrochemical and spectroscopic analysis. This enabled reactions to be monitored in situ so that different reactionware architectures could be screened for their efficacy for a given process, with a digital feedback mechanism for device optimization. Furthermore, solely by modifying reactionware architecture, reaction outcomes can be altered. Taken together, this approach constitutes a relatively cheap, automated and reconfigurable chemical discovery platform that makes techniques from chemical engineering accessible to typical synthetic laboratories.

The use of three-dimensional (3D) printing technologies by individuals promises to bypass sophisticated manufacturing centres and revolutionize every part of the way that materials are turned into functional devices, from design through to operation. However, apart from the utilization of 3D printing for tissue-growth scaffolds and large-scale industrial prototyping, applications of this technology remain limited. Recently, 3D printing was applied to produce highly specialized electronic8, microfluidic and pneumatic, devices, and yet the potential for using 3D-printed reactors as accessible and readily reconfigurable chemical discovery tools has not been addressed. Motivated by the idea of a future whereby users can download a design for a product from the internet, modify it to suit an intended purpose and then rapidly produce any number of such items at low cost on a portable, robust device12, we developed strategies to produce integrated 3D-printer/design-software/chemistry packages whereby individuals could one day have access to chemistry and chemical discovery without the need for expensive laboratory infrastructures. This would not only place traditionally expensive chemical engineering technology within reach of typical laboratories and small commercial enterprises13, but also could revolutionize access to healthcare and the chemical sciences in general in the developing world and so allow diagnosis and treatment preparation to occur in a sustainable, decentralized and timely fashion. With this in mind, we opted to use flexible direct-writing (or `robocasting') 3D printing technologies (whereby a robotically controlled syringe deposits gels at room temperature, which subsequently set without the need for heat or chemical curing steps) that combine low printer-hardware costs with a comparatively broad range of potential printable materials.