Replacing $100K diagnostic chip fab with Shrinky-Dinks and a laser-printer

CCrawford sez, "Michelle Khine couldn't afford the $100,000 fabrication gear to make micro-fluidic chips needed for chip-based diagnostic tests. She turned to Shrinky-Dinks and found a new way to solve the problem."
To test her idea, she whipped up a channel design in AutoCAD, printed it out on Shrinky Dink material using a laser printer, and stuck the result in a toaster oven. As the plastic shrank, the ink particles on its surface clumped together, forming tiny ridges. That was exactly the effect Khine wanted. When she poured a flexible polymer known as PDMS onto the surface of the cooled Shrinky Dink, the ink ridges created tiny channels in the surface of the polymer as it hardened. She pulled the PDMS away from the Shrinky Dink mold, and voilà: a finished microfluidic device that cost less than a fast-food meal.

Khine began using the chips in her experiments, but she didn't view her toaster-oven hack as a breakthrough right away. "I thought it would be something to hold me over until we got the proper equipment in place," she says. But when she published a short paper about her technique, she was floored by the response she got from scientists all over the world. "I had no idea people were going to be so interested," Khine says.

A children's toy inspires a cheap, easy production method for high-tech diagnostic chips (Thanks, CCrawford!)

(Image: Dave Lauridsen)


  1. I love this story.

    Can’t wait for the RepRap machines (or whatever similar things are call in a couple of generations of development) to get a little more sophisticated and precise, so everyone can have a fab.

    1. Aren’t her elbows bending the wrong way in that picture?

      I vaguely remember reading that women’s elbows, on average, bend further back than men’s elbows. It’s one of the ways they can tell a female skeleton from a male skeleton.

  2. To add a green twist you can replace the brand-new shrinky dinks with used take out containers. The

  3. Good to see that people were talking about Khine’s physical appearance as early as comment #2 on a post about her technical innovation… *rolling eyes*

  4. Yes, her appearance is very nice! Would they bother to take a head-to-toe photo for someone who isn’t cute?
    Anyhow, I think that was a brilliant idea. Prototyping chips is way too expensive for smaller labs. It costs big labs a crap ton of money to debug and prototype.

  5. That is just about the coolest thing ever! But when I was a kid shrinky dinks always warped or curled up on me. Do they make them better now, or was it just that my lack of coordination extended even to inanimate objects?

    Oh – for what it’s worth I thought poster #2 was talking about the cuteness of high-tech shrinky-dinks. Of course I could be wrong.

  6. I have no idea what a diagnostic chip fab is (or pretty much anything getting a low-tech hack these days) but I absolutely love this kind of ‘forced’ ingenuity.

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