Lee Cronin, Regius Chair of Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow (UK), is involved in ambitious experiments exploring the assembly and engineering of chemical systems, with the ultimate goal of understanding the origins of life.
Lee Cronin |
He openly admits that he aims to challenge conventional thinking with “crazy ideas”, and the science behind his work has generated a lot of discussion – and numerous prizes. One important aspect of his work is combining chemistry with 3D printing. We spoke with Cronin to find out how this could impact drug development.
What inspired you to combine chemistry and 3D printing?
My focus is on complex chemical systems, and coming up with technologies or utilizing technologies that allow me to control complexity, or to at least monitor it. Big science questions can be enabled by developments in technology – and basically I see 3D printers as a ubiquitous cheap robotic that could be useful for exploring chemistry.
I first got the idea of using 3D printing in my work about five years ago when I went to an architecture conference and I saw some people 3D printing ping-pong balls and plastic objects. It was really interesting, but plastic is quite limited so I wondered if I could do some sort of chemistry inside the ping-pong ball. That got me thinking about how I could print different compartments and then put different chemicals inside them – the idea for reactionware was born. I came up with the idea of reactionware after realizing that the 3D printer could not only print the test tube for the reaction, but could also be used to modify the test tube architecture and even include catalysts and separators (1, 2). In one of our first publications we even used the 3D printer, not only to fabricate the reactor, but also as a liquid handling robot – initiating the chemical reactions by adding the reagents directly into the reactionware.
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