Microfluidic platforms based on biomimetic materials and principles
Diamond, Dermot (2015) Microfluidic platforms based on biomimetic materials and principles. In: 10th Annual Electromaterials Science Symposium, ‘ACES 2015’, 11-13 Feb 2015, AIIM Facility, Innovation Campus, Squires Way, University of Wollongong, Australia.
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Microfluidics emerged from the silicon micromachining industry around 35 years ago, and rapidly led to the development of concepts like micro total analysis systems (uTAS) and lab on a chip, which envisioned the integration of complex fluid handling systems capable of performing laboratory functions like sampling, reagent addition, calibration, separation and analysis in compact, low-cost instruments. However, the realization of this vision has proven to be very difficult, due to the relative inflexibility and cost of silicon processing technologies during system optimization and prototyping stages. In recent years, the focus has moved to polymer-based systems, due to the wide variety of process options, and emergence of very flexible and low cost processing technologies like 3D and 2D printing, and 2-photon polymermisation instrumentation. For the first time, integration of these approaches offers high resolution (to sub-100 nm in some cases) spatial control of polymers during the deposition process. When these capabilities are coupled with the exciting developments in stimuli-responsive materials, the creation of microfluidic structures that are more biomimetic in nature becomes possible. For example, fluidic systems can be flexible, and incorporate fluid handling features like valves based on soft, stimuli-responsive polymers, rather than hard micromachined materials. When these materials are photo-responsive, their functionality can be switched externally using light, without the need to make physical contact between the feature (valve) and the control stimulus. This raises the intriguing prospect of entirely photonic microfluidic systems with integrated complex fluidic control and sensing functions, in which the control/detector elements are housed in photonic ‘layer’ immediately adjacent to, but physically separated from the microfluidic layer. The introduction of micro/nanovehicles adds another layer of exciting capability for microfluidic systems. These entities can move spontaneously to a pre-determined location, according to the local chemistry, release molecular payloads, and report the status of the local molecular environment.
It is my belief, that advances in functional materials coupled with high-precision control of 3D spatial location will open the way to low cost, yet highly sophisticated fluidic platforms capable of performing very advanced tasks (sampling, sample processing, reagent addition, standard addition, separations and detection) far beyond the capabilities of current systems. The data generated by these next generation devices will underpin tremendous opportunities for new applications ranging across personal health monitoring, clinical diagnostics, highly distributed environmental monitoring (water, air soil), in-situ forensics, and chem/bio-threat detection.
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