Microfluidics Helps Miniaturize Laboratory Processes into One Chip

Christy 2021-06-11


Scientific research has been revolving around research and experiment in laboratories involving multiple people, equipment, and resources. Although technological advancements have reduced the amount of space, labor, and material required for testing, none of them have been as impactful and promising as Microfluidics.

Microfluidics: The Basics

Chips that use microfluidics can be as small as 1 cm in size and can help researchers perform multiple tests at a fast pace and without requiring the traditional laboratory procedures. This is why they have been termed as ‘Lab on a Chip’ devices.

Chips based on Microfluidics ODMs have micro-channels that are molded to be extremely thin. Fluids can be passed through these channels and connected to diagnostic devices through outlet and inlet ports. Depending on the requirements, the channels have diameters ranging from 5 µm to 500 µm. Latest structures built on microfluidics are now offering the precision of sub-micrometer levels.

There are several applications of microfluidics, and each one of them requires a different kind of structure and channel network that is designed for a specific purpose.

Miniaturization In History

Long before microfluidics was invented, researchers dabbled into miniaturization techniques for years, especially in microelectronics. The pursuit has mostly been about reducing the dimensions of devices to allow for more energy-efficient systems that are also faster and cheaper.

MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) was a term coined in the late 1960s, and it laid the foundation for microfluidics. MEMs involved reducing the size of mechanical systems using silicon semiconductors to develop micromachining technology. It was then found that silicon chips could also be used to process light, motion, and most importantly, chemicals.

Inkjet printer heads were the first implementations that demonstrated such technology, using thermal or piezoelectric effects to generate droplets the size of microns. A couple of decades later, the miniaturization of systems used for chemical analysis was also achieved.

Many more academic attempts of research later, new alternatives emerged to replace silicon processing. Slowly, microfluidics began to generate noise in the scientific community, and the ‘Lab on a Chip’ concept was born.

But Why Microfluidics?

Currently, microfluidics is the most advanced microscale technology used to exploit gases and liquids for their chemical and physical properties. Traditional systems are no match for devices built on microfluidics, and this is due to several reasons.

Firstly, extremely low volumes of test samples are needed to execute analysis in a microfluidic chip. Lesser reagents and chemicals are required, which reduces costs greatly. Also, microfluidics enables several tests to be conducted at once due to the small size of the chips, resulting in faster turnarounds.

The quality of data provided by the chips is excellent and allows substantial control of several parameters. This opens the doors for automation as well. Additionally, multi-step reactions can be generated by users without requiring major levels of expertise.

Tech Of The Future

DNA analysis, microfluidic droplets, cell culture, Lab on a Chip, Organ on a Chip, etc. are just a few applications of microfluidics. The latest technology has enabled manufacturers to produce LOC devices using a vast range of raw materials that can provide custom chips for any suitable application.

New designs are being developed using microfluidics to interact with environments like the open space. Biologists have also applauded Drop-seq technology that has been developed based on microfluidics and helps analyze thousands of different RNA cells at once.

Due to the extremely reliable structure and low cost, more manufacturers are trying to commercialize microfluidics. Scientists are finding ways to implement such devices in the medical sector to enhance the testing of diseases and provide faster, cheaper, and better treatment to patients with major illnesses.

Of course, microfluidics is still a pretty new technology and is still in the trial phase. But the nanotechnology sector has seen rapid growth, and it won’t be long before LOC devices will become the norm.