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Technology Review: TR35

Michelle Khine, 32

University of California, Irvine

A children’s toy inspires a cheap, easy production method for high-tech diagnostic chips

Purposeful play: Biomedical engineer Michelle Khine sits in her lab at the University of California, Irvine, where she uses Shrinky Dinks straight from the toy store to build microfluidic devices.
Credit: Dave Lauridsen


How Khine Builds Microfluidic Devices


Watch Khine explain and demo her devices.

In 2006, Michelle Khine arrived at the University of California­’s brand-new Merced campus eager to establish her first lab. She was experimenting with tiny liquid-filled channels in hopes of devising chip-based diagnostic tests, a discipline called microfluidics. The trouble was, the specialized equipment that she previously used to make microfluidic chips cost more than $100,000–money that wasn’t immediately available. “I’m a very impatient person,” says Khine, now an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine. “I wanted to figure out how I could set things up really quickly.”

Racking her brain for a quick-and-dirty way to make microfluidic devices, Khine remembered her favorite childhood toy: Shrinky Dinks, large sheets of thin plastic that can be colored with paint or ink and then shrunk in a hot oven. “I thought if I could print out the [designs] at a certain resolution and then make them shrink, I could make channels the right size for micro­fluidics,” she says.