Scientific American presents four toys that inspired innovations in science and technology. For example, University of Pittsburgh physicist Jeremy Levy had an Etch A Sketch in mind when developing a new way to fabricate nanoscale transistors. And UC Irvine biomedical engineer Michelle Khine used Shrinky Dink technology to make microfluidic systems for "labs on a chip." (Images above.) From Scientific American:
Khine knew that when Shrinky Dinks condense, any ink lines on the plastic become raised–and that's precisely what she sought in a microfluidics mold. She bought Shrinky Dink plastic designed for computer printer use, printed a pattern, and baked it for several minutes in her toaster oven. The results exceeded her expectations. Instead of just making molds, Khine ultimately developed a technique to make microfluidics chips directly from Shrinky Dink plastic. "It actually worked really well," Khine says, well enough to found a company based on that basic premise. To create products such as stem cell research devices and solar cells, Shrink Nanotechnologies has developed a new material that trumps the toy's abilities. Says Khine: "Shrinky Dinks shrink by 60 percent, but our new polymer shrinks 95 percent. And the properties shrink more consistently."