As a kid, Michelle Khine loved Shrinky Dinks. So when she didn't have the equipment at the University of California, Merced, that she needed to make chips with tiny fluid-filled cavities for use in experiments and medical diagnostics, Khine improvised: She printed chip patterns onto her beloved childhood toy. "Typically, the difficulty and the cost is how to pattern at such a fine scale," says Khine, now an assistant professor at UC Irvine. "The smaller you go, the more expensive it's going to be." Shrinky Dinks offered a cheap, elegant solution. As the printed plastic shrank in a toaster oven, the deposits of ink on top thickened, yielding a mold for a chip with small wells on its surface. Recognizing the potential market for affordable microdevices, she helped found Shrink Nanotechnologies, which develops molecular-detection platforms, rapid-prototyping kits, and stem-cell tools innovations that may make micro fluidic devices more accessible to scientists and speed important research. "A lot of these devices have been stuck in the labs that have the expertise to make them," she says. "Now, you can go in and print the design you want."
Whenever I get a crazy idea, I still go into the kitchen to mess around on anything lab-related, creative-related, or food-related.
Who is the most creative person you know?
Fiorenzo Omenetto at Tufts. He developed a platform technology where he makes electronics with silk. We're collaborating now and we're both just all over the map. It's fun when you find someone as wacky as you.