The Leigh Group at Manchester University 3D print modular advanced research apparatus for 1% of the price.

A number of chemical suppliers sell a PhotoRedox Box for approximately £1150 pounds (plus VAT + Shipping). These pieces of equipment are very popular in modern chemistry laboratories investigating photochemistry. They provide reliable and consistent access to unique chemistry involving reactive substrates.

The Leigh Group at The University of Manchester wanted to try a specific reaction that would benefit from this expensive equipment. They decided to design and manufacture their own version of the PhotoRedox Box and test it’s performance. The project began on a Monday with designs of each CAD module. By Wednesday, they were 3D printed on an Ultimaker 3, then assembled to create a mimic of a PhotoRedox Box for approximately £11 in filament costs. After some control experiments, the first reaction began on Thursday and the apparatus was found to perform identically to the commercial system.

Challenge

Without consistent and reliable pieces of apparatus, it is difficult to form accurate conclusions from the research. Any variations in reaction yields should be due to controllable variables that the scientist changes. In this experiment, both the intensity of the light and the amount of heat generated can affect the yield of reactions. It is critical to monitor and maintain these parameters to be consistent and reproducible. Before any novel photochemistry was investigated, the apparatus must afford reliable and consistent results. The challenge was to recreate the expensive PhotoRedox Box but for a fraction of the price using a 3D printer.

Solution

The Leigh Group at The University of Manchester purchased their Ultimaker 3 and the critical blue filament from CREATE Education. The research group began with printing numerous crystal structures of their molecular machines for outreach activities such as‘Research Uncovered’ at The University of Manchester’s Manchester Museum.

For this project, The Leigh Group designed a modular PhotoRedoxBox using Autodesk Fusion 360. Each part interlocked with the other and could be easily modified for new applications. Each modular component was printed using their Ultimaker 3 without the need for any support. It was important to keep the price down and the speed of printing as short as possible. Researchers then quickly assembled the apparatus and tested parameters such as temperature and function with stirrer-hotplates (an apparatus that stirs the reactions).

Results

Researchers in The Leigh Group rapidly printed a modular PhotoRedox Box for 1% of the price that maintains a controllable temperature and can accommodate reactions on a large-scale (better than the commercial product). The apparatus facilitates a project in the group to investigate the exciting world of molecular machines and molecular nanotopology.

Benefits:

  • An enclosed box improves the safety of the working environment as the strong intensity of light is contained.
  • Cost 1% of the price as sold online.
  • Can run on larger scales than the commercial version.
  • Parts can be easily replaced.
  • Easily modified and upgraded to suit the operator’s requirements.
  • Can create more apparatus, quickly as demand increases.

“3D printing technologies are going to be integral to the future of a modern research environment. The limit of CAD projects is in the imagination of the user. The speed of printing in a variety of materials allows for rapid prototyping to optimize and evolve models to fit any application as desired by the end-user. Every research lab should have access to a 3D printer to promote further integration and understanding of how this technology can benefit both academic and industrial research.”
Dean Thomas, PhD Student, The University of Manchester

CREATE Education would like to thank Dean Thomas and Professor Dave Leigh for sharing this project with us.

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