When Lee Cronin learned about the concept of 3D printers, he had a brilliant idea: why not turn such a device into a universal chemistry set that could make its own drugs?
…The real beauty of Cronin’s prototype system, is that it allows the printer not only to control the sequences and exact calibration of inks, but also to shape, from a tested blueprint, the environment in which those reactions take place.
The scale and architecture of the miniature printed “lab” could be pre-programmed into software and downloaded for use with a standard set of inks. In this way, not only the combinations of reactants but also the ratios and speed at which they combine could be ingrained into the system, simply by changing the size of reaction chambers and their relation with one another; Cronin calls this “reactionware” or, because it depends on a conceptualised sequence of flow and reorientation in a 3D space, “Rubik’s Cube chemistry”.
“What we are trying to do is to combine the notion of a reaction with a reactor,” he says. “Conventionally the reactor is just the passive space or the environment in which a reaction takes place. It could be something as simple as a test tube. The printer allows it to be a far more active context.”