Researchers at MIT have created a miniature peristaltic vacuum pump using 3D printing that could help create inexpensive portable mass spectrometers for use in isolated parts of the world.
The device is only the size of a human fist, but it can create and maintain a vacuum that has an order of magnitude lower pressure than a rough pump, which doesn’t require liquid to create a vacuum and can operate at atmospheric pressure.
The MIT researchers’ pump can prevent fluid or gas from leaking while minimizing heat from friction during the pumping process, increasing the device’s lifetime. Maintaining a vacuum is critical for mass spectrometers, because if the ions collide with gas molecules from the air, their dynamics will change, reducing the specificity of the analytical process and increasing its false positives.
“We are talking about very inexpensive hardware that is also very capable,” said Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, researcher and senior author of a paper describing the new pump.
“With mass spectrometers, the 500-pound gorilla in the room has always been the issue of pumps. What we have shown here is groundbreaking, but it is only possible because it is 3D-printed. If we wanted to do this the standard way, we wouldn’t have been anywhere close.”
The pump could be incorporated into portable mass spectrometers used to monitor soil contamination in isolated parts of the world or in geological survey equipment bound for Mars, as it would be cheaper to launch the lightweight pump into space.
“Some people think that when you 3D print something there must be some kind of tradeoff. But here our group has shown that is not the case. It really is a new paradigm. Additive manufacturing is not going to solve all the problems of the world, but it is a solution that has real legs,” said Velásquez-García.
You can read the full paper titled “Compact peristaltic vacuum pumps via multi-material extrusion” in the Additive Manufacturing journal at this link.
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