Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Simple, ingenious way to create lab-on-a-chip devices could become a model for teaching and research

21.01.2011
Microfluidics Lab at Harvard provides new core facility for undergraduate teaching

With little more than a conventional photocopier and transparency film, anyone can build a functional microfluidic chip.

A local Cambridge high school physics teacher invented the process; now, thanks to a new undergraduate teaching lab at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), students will be able explore microfluidics and its applications.

The Microfluidics Lab, developed by Dr. Anas Chalah, Director of Instructional Technology at SEAS, takes advantage of a simple but ingenious new method of creating lab-on-a-chip devices that are quick to produce, affordable, and reusable.

Chalah is excited—contagiously so—about the lab's potential to serve students from all areas of science and engineering.

"Harvard University shaped the emergence of the field of microfluidics and soft lithography through the leading research conducted in the labs of George Whitesides and David Weitz, among others," he says. "Now we are bringing those areas of experimentation to the undergraduate teaching labs at SEAS."

The first course to use the lab will be the mechanical engineering course ES 123, "Introduction to Fluid Mechanics and Transport Processes." Students enrolled in the course this spring will use sophisticated COMSOL MultiphysicsTM software to model the flow of liquid through chips of varying structure, in order to design and build optimal chips in the lab. The COMSOL software is widely used for design projects in both academic research and industry.

ES 123 is structured to emphasize the importance of the design process.
"Students do the simulation, go through the homework, and get exposed to the process before they even get in the lab," says Chalah.

Chalah emphasizes that the new lab will provide a core facility for multiple areas of undergraduate study. "We can get people from different disciplines excited about the same device," he says.

For example, the do-it-yourself opportunity will also appeal to budding biomedical engineers and premedical students, who can use the lab-on-a-chip devices to study and test clinical applications.

Chalah is particularly interested in a device called a concentration gradient generator, which allows two or more fluids to mix in a very controlled manner, producing a range of concentrations from 0 to 100 percent.

A variation of the device is used in drug testing, as it can be used to deliver a range of very precise drug concentrations to a set of experimental cell lines. With multiple cell lines built into one chip, as many as 80 tiny experiments can be performed at once, all under the same controlled conditions. Chalah expects that bioengineering lab courses at SEAS will soon be developed that incorporate this technology.

The technology used in the lab is not new, but a process that makes it affordable certainly is.

Commercially available microfluidic devices (see image below) are produced in a clean room using high-resolution photolithography and etching, a process which pushes the retail price to around $500 each.

Local high school physics teacher Joe Childs had a better idea: design the layout of the channels in PowerPointTM, print the image, and photocopy it onto a classroom-style transparency film several times until the layers of ink create raised ridges. The process results in a negative mold that can then be used to create channels in the polymer chip (see sidebar at top of page).

It sounds rudimentary, but it works.

Childs, who teaches at the nearby Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, collaborates with faculty and students at SEAS through the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program funded by the National Science Foundation's National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network.

He first developed the process in the lab of Bob M. Westervelt, Mallinckrodt Professor of Applied Physics at SEAS and Professor of Physics, with graduate student Keith Brown. He is now perfecting it with Chalah and an enthusiastic team of young interns for the undergraduate teaching labs.

Together, they can design and build a chip in a single afternoon, and, Childs adds, "the most expensive thing that we need is a copy machine."

The resulting chips are not as precise as the commercially available versions, but the benefit—besides the low cost—is that students will be able to experience the process of designing and building the devices themselves, applying their knowledge of the fundamental principles of fluid dynamics to create a functional tool.

The simplified process will allow other science teachers to introduce their students to an aspect of physics that might previously have been off limits due to cost.

"Believe me," says Chalah, "if people knew we could build a chip so cheaply, they would jump on it like this."

The creation of the new Microfluidics Lab, on the ground floor of Pierce Hall, was enabled by a generous donation from Warren Wilkinson '41. The lab features state-of-the-art microfluidic pumps, microscopes, ovens, and soft lithography and fabrication equipment.

Michael Patrick Rutter | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.harvard.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>