Biomimetic microfluidics and stimuli-responsive materials: the key to realising chemical sensing platforms with revolutionary capabilities
Florea, Larisa and Francis, Wayne and Dunne, Aishling and Tudor, Alexandru and Diamond, Dermot (2015) Biomimetic microfluidics and stimuli-responsive materials: the key to realising chemical sensing platforms with revolutionary capabilities. In: Royal Society of Chemistry Analytical Research Forum 2015, 3 Jul 2015, London, UK.
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Autonomous chemical sensing platforms capable of operating independently for long periods of time (months, years) at an acceptable cost are not currently available, and it can be argued performance has not advanced significantly despite decades of intensive research. The key issue is how to maintain such devices within calibration, and to validate their calibration status remotely.
New approaches to controlling sample and reagent movement in microchannels could play a central role in the realisation of autonomous chemical sensing platforms with capabilities that go well beyond those of existing sensor technologies. Our capacity to create and characterise structures with 3D spatial control ranging from molecular scale through nano, to micro and even macro-dimensions opens exciting new opportunities to understand and mimic the molecular world of biology and chemistry. For example, Figure 1 shows complex 3D structures formed from soft gel-polymers with sub-micron resolution, enabling pores with pre-determined topographies to be created within films and beads. When these polymers incorporate a photo-switchable or chemo-switchable moiety, the pore dimensions can be controlled using light or changes in the local chemical environment. This in turn enables uptake or transfer of material through the pores to be controlled, in a manner similar to many bio-systems.
Furthermore, nano-dimensioned features can be created inside microfluidic channels to produce soft polymer actuators for fluid control, or channels with switchable characteristics such as surface roughness , or controlled uptake and release of molecular guests. In addition, fluidic coatings can optically report their condition (e.g. whether they are in binding or passive form, or molecular guests are bound) reflecting the chemical status along the entire length of the fluidic system, rather than at a localised detector . The same characteristics can be integrated into micro-vehicles such as droplets, beads and vesicles, or microrobots that can also move spontaneously or be externally directed to specific locations, where they can perform tasks such as autonomous leak detection and repair [3, 4]. Such advanced functions mimic the active behaviour of cells in our own circulation systems, and perhaps provide the pre-cursor to developing analytical devices in which the fluidic system plays a much more active role in condition diagnostics and maintenance in order to extend the functional lifetime of autonomous devices far beyond the current state of the art.
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