Engineering students: Airbrush not just for artists

Feb 14, 2008
Engineering students: Airbrush not just for artists
A microelectrode made in part with an airbrush is seen in this photo shot at a University of Florida laboratory. On a suggestion from a student who had a hobby making paper airplanes, UF engineering students came up with a way to use airbrushes to make the microelectrodes, which are used in glucose monitors for diabetics and other sensors. The airbrush technique is far cheaper and simpler than the standard one, though it works best for small, customized jobs rather than in mass production. Credit: University of Florida

The airbrush, that tool behind tattoos and T-shirts, may have an unexpected future … in technology.

A group of engineering students at the University of Florida has come up with a method for using an airbrush to make microelectrodes — tiny conductors used in an increasing range of consumer, research and medical products. The technique is simpler than the standard one, at least for small projects that require production of only a few electrodes.

“The idea was to try to find something cheap and quick, that we could do in our own lab without much expense,” said student Corey Walker.

Walker was one of four UF engineering students who worked on the project. Now a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at the University of California, Irvine, he is the lead author of a paper appearing this month in the online edition of the journal Electroanalysis.

Microelectrodes are highly sensitive, fingernail-sized devices used, for example, in off-the-shelf glucose monitors for diabetics. They are also vital to “lab on a chip” devices under development to identify substances in air, blood or other samples.

The industry standard for manufacturing microelectrodes is screen printing, a technique that, oddly, is also borrowed from the visual arts. But it requires a screen printer, and the students, who were trying to craft a hydrogen sensor, didn’t have one.

So a student who used airbrushes to build model airplanes suggested they try that tool. Trials and tests perfected the approach, with the students eventually using fully airbrushed electrodes to craft a working sensor. The technique works best for small projects because it requires each electrode to be made individually or in small batches.

“A screen-printing machine useful for fabricating microelectrodes might cost $10,000, whereas you can buy an airbrush for less than $200,” said Hugh Fan, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who oversaw the project. “So this is a useful technique for small, custom projects.”

Source: University of Florida

Explore further: Applications of optical fibre for sensors

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Designer's toolkit for dynamic DNA nanomachines

3 hours ago

The latest DNA nanodevices created at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM)—including a robot with movable arms, a book that opens and closes, a switchable gear, and an actuator—may be intriguing ...

Computer student on gesture control: Start experimenting

Mar 25, 2015

Back in 2012, authors from Microsoft Research and UbiComp Lab at University of Washington prepared their paper, "SoundWave: Using the Doppler Effect to Sense Gestures," for the Proceedings of the Association ...

Poison dart frog inspires new way to de-ice planes

Mar 25, 2015

Curiosity about the way a particular tropical frog releases a toxic substance through its skin to protect itself led Arizona State University engineer Konrad Rykaczewski to an idea for a new anti-icing technique ...

Silver shines as antibacterial for medical implants

Mar 24, 2015

There have been growing concerns in the global health care system about the eradication of pathogens in hospitals and other patient-care environments. Overuse of antibiotics and antimicrobial agents has contributed ...

Recommended for you

Wearable device helps vision-impaired avoid collision

16 hours ago

People who have lost some of their peripheral vision, such as those with retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, or brain injury that causes half visual field loss, often face mobility challenges and increased likelihood ...

Applications of optical fibre for sensors

Mar 26, 2015

Mikel Bravo-Acha's PhD thesis has focused on the applications of optical fibre as a sensor. In the course of his research, conducted at the NUP/UPNA-Public University of Navarre, he monitored a sensor fitted to optical fibre ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.