Microencapsulation, in which a tiny particle of one material is encased within a shell made from another, is widely used in pharmaceuticals manufacturing and holds promise for other areas, such as self-repairing materials and solar power. But most applications of microencapsulation require particles of uniform size, and that’s something that existing fabrication techniques don’t reliably provide. In products with a high profit margin, such as pharmaceuticals, it can be cost effective to mechanically separate particles of the proper size from those that are too large or too small, but in niche or small-margin products, it may not be. In an open-access article published online on October 3, 2016 in Lab on a Chip, researchers from MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories report a new microencapsulation technique that yields particles of very consistent size, while also affording a high rate of production. Moreover, the devices used to produce the spheres were themselves manufactured with an affordable commercial 3-D printer. The ability to 3-D-print fabrication systems would not only keep manufacturing costs low, but also allow researchers to quickly develop systems for producing microencapsulated particles for particular applications. “When you print your microsystems, you can iterate them very fast,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, Ph.D., a principal research scientist in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories and senior author on the new paper.
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