Tag Archives: Future

Printing painkillers

1 Sep

If it’s digital, it can be uploaded, downloaded, shared, edited and embellished. With advances in 3D printing technology, internet accessibility may soon apply to physical items too, including over-the-counter drugs.

3D printers have existed since 2003, and are already in mainstream use for the production of industrial and medical components. Similar to a regular inkjet machine, 3D printers follow digital instructions to produce a physical copy of an item. This is done by precise layering of materials such as plaster or plastic to build up a 3D structure. Demonstrations of the technology have seen 3D scans taken of various items (including an Academy Award statuette and some particularly tasteful gargoyle figurines), then replication of those items in various materials.

There’s more to 3D printing than just copying trinkets though. The potential to perform pre-programmed chemical reactions could turn home offices into small-scale laboratories.

Recent work at the University of Glasgow has demonstrated the capacity of relatively affordable 3D printers to act as tools for performing chemistry. Reaction vessels were ‘printed’ in layers of quick-setting bathroom sealant, and the chemicals required for the desired reaction were ‘printed’ into those vessels. By preparing a digital blueprint for, for example, the production of paracetamol tablets, a specialised chemistry set could be printed out, and a choreographed reaction performed with minimal human input required. The end product would be freshly produced painkillers, essentially downloaded from the internet.

The trials of this technology were carried out using a commercially available 3D printer that cost around US$2000. For that sum of money, and the additional cost of buying reaction ‘recipes’, any household could become capable of producing their own non-prescription medication.

Before this use of the technology becomes commercial, issues of user safety need to be addressed. A printed chemistry set would have to be impossible to adapt for illegal uses; it’s not hard to imagine digital recipes for preparing illicit drugs being shared online. The reactions that could be performed would be limited by the availability and safety of the chemical ingredients. Despite these hurdles, 3D printing and desk-top chemistry might be the next advancement in bringing goods and services into homes.



For a Friend…Lazy Roo Woman

23 Sep

Here is my favourite quotation from this week:

Maths Tutor:  Just letting you all know, we have a really big whiteboard marker this week, so be careful.


Student: Whoa, this marker is huge!

Maths Tutor: I warned you!




It was a dark and stormy night…

No, Roo Woman knows how that one ends.



The machines were silent now. Until earlier last year, they had emitted unsettling snapping sounds, like fingers being broken. Harry stepped through the understated, brushed-metal arch, stood on the platform and sighed a little as his body was pulled apart, atom by atom.


…And stepping off the platform, brushing a little portdust from his jacket, he realised he’d left his wallet behind. He looked back at the arch. He technically hadn’t left the terminal yet, and the machines were sensor-driven. It’d save him another ticket fare if he just snuck back the way he’d come. Cheeky, but no more illegal than fare-dodging on a train.


The terminals had been running for years now. The system was perfect. Lines of cubicles, arches, and now-silent machinery operated with a smooth adherence to two vital rules. There was a ten-minute off-period after each travel; no one could enter a cubicle until the power-generators had slowed down sufficiently to have excess static removed manually. Men in green overalls with huge trolleys of equipment worked the machines systematically. The ten-minute downtime for each cubicle was not an issue, not with tens of thousands of individual machines lining the station. The second rule, was that the men in green overalls were not to be spoken to, or come into contact with. Something about residual charge. The signs displaying the rules were filled with meaningless justifications. They were taken as gospel.


Harry reassembled on the other side right on top of someone. He fell forward, the stranger in his cubicle cushioning his impact slightly. Harry uttered a surprised apology, rolling the oddly limp stranger from under him…



Tune in next week for another installment of mind-splurge on a blog. But tonight, we shall leave you with a haiku about nothing whatsoever.

When I see the rain
I think of small, droplet-shaped
Things made of water.