Scientists use environmentally controlled clean rooms to manufacture microdevices that incorporate organic materials such as proteins and tissue.

UC IRVINE (US)—The next generation of miniature devices built from sensitive organic materials may be coming from specialized manufacturing facilities, like the new clean room lab at the University of California, Irvine.  Scientists at the facility are able to work at a scale that is one-hundredth the diameter of a human hair.

The 4,000 sq. ft. Bio-Organic Nanofabrication facility, or BiON, has been customized for building microdevices with materials such as living tissue, proteins, and collagens.

“BiON is a new concept,” says Mark Bachman, cofounder and associate director of UCI’s Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility. “I don’t know of any other multiuser facility dedicated to this type of manufacturing.”

Just as many electronics manufacturers turned to miniaturization a few decades ago to reap benefits such as increased portability and lower cost, biomedical and biotechnology researchers are attracted to smaller medical devices and implants that are more efficient and less invasive.

The idea to build a second micro- and nanoscale manufacturing facility at UCI dedicated to organic materials arose when Bachman noticed life sciences researchers trying to work in clean rooms where dry, high-temperature processes used to build electronic devices from inorganic substances could harm or destroy natural materials.

“In our quest to support the life sciences, we found a lot of things that needed to be changed in the manufacturing process. For example, an antenna is built differently than an implantable microelectrode,” Bachman says. “Until BiON, it was difficult to find places to manufacture and prototype products that use natural materials.”

BiON features tools designed for use with sensitive organic materials, including machines that can operate under constantly wet conditions, special incubators for growing cells, high-precision laser etching and specified areas for low-temperature processing.

“BiON is a great resource for our academic research, for industry, and for education,” Bachman says. “Now, our students have access to a place where they can look at cutting-edge ways of manufacturing.”

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