Practical uses of 3D printing in an electrophysiology lab

I have mentioned before about my 3D printer, and how useful I have found it. Today, I’ll explain some of the practical uses I’ve found for 3D printing for electrophysiology. The point is that electrophysiology equipment is both extortionately expensive and annoyingly non-compatible. So, it is often quicker, cheaper and easier to design and print a “thing” than try to buy something to fit your particular need.

Build-a-bath workshop

A year or two ago, I was setting up our third (at the time unused) rig for calcium imaging. We had various bits of baths, but no complete set. And it would cost a (relatively) large sum of money to buy a replacement. I found that what I was missing was the “bath” bit (I had the holder). So I measured up one of our existing ones and designed a reasonable copy in Autocad:

3D design for an electrophysiology bath insert.

My printer was able to make it with a very smooth base, which is the crucial aspect for obtaining a watertight seal. I installed it on the calcium imaging rig, it worked well, and is still in use there to this day. Oh, and for anyone who’s interested, I have made the 3D design available on Thingiverse.

Moving an LED

My loyal readers will know that it was around this time that the light source for the calcium rig died. A replacement LED source would cost anywhere from £3k to £15k, depending on how many colours I wanted access to. However, we had animals ready for experiments at the time, and even if we had the money, it could take weeks for new kit to arrive.

Luckily, we had a blue LED of the correct wavelength attached to one other rigs, that was no longer needed there. I had purchased it to do optogenetic stimulation, but we had switched opto’s to the third rig.

Anyway, this seemed like an easy fix, just swap it over. But of course, it’s never that easy. Because, I wanted to move the LED from an Olympus microscope to a Zeiss. And the manufacturers do not make it easy on the consumer by having common fittings.

So, I measured up the fitting on the LED and the back of the Ziess fluorescence port. I then designed a 2-part “sleeve” that would modify the Zeiss port to resemble the back of an Olympus:

3D design for an Olympus-to-Zeiss microscope fluorescence adapter.

I used cable ties to hold it on tight to the Zeiss fluorescence port. The benefit of cable ties over something more permanent like glue is that they can just be cut off if/when the LED wants changing. The LED now fitted snugly onto the back of the microscope, and, after some fiddling with the data and control connections, was now fully functional for calcium imaging.

A “lab things” service

The main point I want readers to take away from this post is the usefulness of 3D printing for electrophysiology labs. I would strongly recommend anyone reading this who performs a practical skill in the lab like electrophysiology to consider investing in a 3D printer. They are actually quite cheap nowadays (mine was about £250 a few years ago), and I’m sure they’ll save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

In fact, the biggest investment to 3D printing things yourself is the time it takes to learn 3D CAD software and optimising the 3D print process itself. So, if you want something custom making, but would prefer not to have to figure it out yourself, just head over to the Services page and send a request. You never know, I might well be able to save you a lot of time, effort and money.

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