Saturday, August 18, 2012

InkJet "Human Eye" Design: Biomedical Possibilities?

Nozzles used in biological tissue printers could one day be modeled after
a design that ensures clog-free nozzles
We all have that moment after when we turn from the computer and stare at our printers, waiting for the countless things that could go wrong in the process of printing out a document.  Inkjet nozzles can especially be a culprit, as their
tendency to clog costs businesses and residents alike thousands of dollars a year in wasted ink, not to mention trips to the barber to fix spots of torn hair.

Jae Wan Kwon, associate professor at the College of Engineering at University of Missouri, has invented an inkjet nozzle with an ingenious method of staying unclogged while keeping solvent; mimicking the human eye. 

          The eye and an ink jet nozzle have a common problem: they must not be allowed to dry while, simultaneously, they must open. We used biomimicry, the imitation of nature, to solve human problems.

                                                                                -redOrbit (

 A small drop of silicone covers the "eye" of the nozzle.  When the nozzle needs to work, instead of trying to create eyelids to blink away the thin silicone coating, Kwon used electric fields to move the droplet in and out of place.  It works on such a small scale yet is incredibly efficient.

The real potential for a design like this, however, could be the realm of medical technology, where the US's already innovative market could adopt a model like this for biomedical labs.  Kwon's already figured this out and inferred to redOrbit  that's the direction he'd like to take the device:

“For example, biological tissue printers, which may someday be capable of fabricating replacement organs, squirt out living cells to form biological      structures....Those cells are so expensive that researchers often find it cheaper to replace the nozzles rather than waste the cells. Clog-free nozzles would eliminate the costly replacements.”

                                                                             -redOrbit (

It's fascinating how little changes in design for something as taken for granted as an inkjet could maybe lead to a major contribution to biotech, but that's the kind of semantic thinking that should be rewarded in the evolving landscape of American manufacturing. 

To see video of Kwon's design in action (you have to look closely to see the details at work) go here.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.