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Published on March 30th, 2017 | by Geetika Bhasin

Justus Liebig University researchers create Silica gel layers for TLC hacking the Prusa i33D printer

Researchers at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, have created thin layers of silica gel using a Prusa i3 3D printer. These layers of silica gel are used for thin layer chromatography(TLC), a lab technique that involves separating out the single ingredients of a mixture.

A form of planar chromatography, TLC is a process used in scientific findings, quality control, and other fields where it is required to separate the mixture into its individual parts. The process of TLC involves using a thin layer of an adsorbent such as silica gel to extract the mixture parts, which leaves out the constituent parts. (Other methods use special chromatography paper or other tools for separation.)

Researchers at the Justus Liebig University discovered that the process of TLC could be carried out effectively by 3D printing the layer of silica gel. Moreover, though the equipment for processing TLC can be expensive, the researchers, Dimitri Fichou and Gertrud E. Morlock, from Justus Liebig University found that by modifying the, it could be used to create the silica gel layers required for the TLC process.

The Prusa i3 is an open source RepRap machine and has never been previously used for 3D printing silica gels. Reserachers, Fichou and Morlock had to make significant changes to their i3 for carrying out the experiments. For preparing the printer, the i3’s filament-dispensing extruder had to be replaced with a 3D printed tool called a “slurry doser”. Fichou and Morlock explained that the printing process was fast as printing a 0.2 mm layer on a 10 cm × 10 cm format, took less than 5 minutes. It was affordable too as the entire plate cost just 25 cents.

The researchers also tried 3D printing 40 channels consecutively on a 10 cm × 10 cm square in order to separate 40 different samples; which again took just 2 minutes and cost only €0.04.

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