Holding a device made in the making lab

Making it happen

Science Technology Platforms (STPs) have changed the way we work. Ravi Desai, Head of the Making Lab STP, provides the inside story.

What's the key strength of the Making Lab STP?

One of the real advantages of the Crick is that housing so many disparate groups in one building promotes collaboration. The Making Lab STP is a hub that integrates people, ideas, projects, equipment and expertise to advance and accelerate scientific discovery by making customised devices that aren't available anywhere else. In addition, we can help researchers make their own devices using readily available technology such as a Raspberry Pi.

What areas do you specialise in?

We offer three different types of fabrication. One of our main areas of expertise is microfabrication, particularly microfluidics. In other words, we make and customise plumbing devices on a miniature scale. We also make tiny micropatterns that can be used to position cells or tissues exactly where researchers want them in order to mimic how they're organised in humans or animals.

Our capabilities at a larger scale include computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling and 3D printing for making larger bespoke objects - for example, we could 3D print a scaled-up model in order to explain cells to school children.

We also use electronic fabrication techniques and tools to make sensors, actuators and control systems. A simple example would be LEDs that change colour when a specific temperature is reached.

How does your STP interact with researchers?

Ravi Desai lab coat

In two different ways. Firstly, anybody can simply call in and see us - coffee and sandwiches always available! If they need to carry out a particular experiment, we'll do our best to build a device that will make it happen. Secondly, we work through longer-term, project-based collaborations. Either way, the next step in our workflow is to design the device that we're going to be building, using computers and software. Fabrication takes place in fairly typical research-type labs - we have two at present, with a third under construction.

What are you working on now?

Archaea are tiny microorganisms found in environments such as hot springs, where pH can be as low as 2.5 and temperatures up to 80 ?C. We're trying to come up with a microfluidic device to hold these cells in a fixed position and keep them alive for long enough for a high-resolution microscope to capture a good image. This is simply not possible in a traditional culture dish. By studying archaea, the researchers aim to gain insight into how basic cell division machinery operates, and how to potentially prevent it operating in cancers.

This article has been taken from A new home for science and discovery, our annual review for 2016/17

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