Overview of Microfluidics
This short article aims to describe microfluidics in terms of concepts, advantages, and various application areas.
What Is Microfluidics?
Microfluidics is the study and manipulation of sub-millimeter-scale fluid flow in a network of channels ranging in size from tens to hundreds of microns. From our smallest blood capillaries to the juice network in plants, microfluidic technology is everywhere. Researchers believe that appropriate tools can be used to control the pressure and flow in the microfluidic channel, so as to obtain the mechanics and possibilities provided by the microfluidics.
The discipline originated in the early 1990s and has grown exponentially. Because precise and controlled experiments can be performed at a lower cost and faster speed, microfluidic technology is regarded as an important tool for life science research, or as a larger means of biotechnology.
How Does Microfluidics Work?
The work of the entire laboratory is miniaturized by micron-level devices. Microfluidic systems work by using pumps and chips. Different types of pumps accurately move the liquid into the chip at a rate of 1 μL/min to 10000 μL/min. Ordinary microfluidic chips can be made of various materials, such as polymers or glass, with channel designs engraved on them.
There are nano-scale microfluidic channels inside the chip, which can perform liquid processing, such as mixing, chemical or physical reactions. Microfluidic liquids may carry tiny particles, such as cells or nanoparticles. Microfluidic devices can process these particles, such as capturing and collecting cancer cells from normal cells in the blood.
Microfluidics and Lithography
The microfluidic system is fabricated using photolithography technology. Photolithography is a process used to transfer the geometric shapes existing on the mask to the surface of a suitable substrate, using a special polymer that reacts to light of a specific wavelength to form a desired geometric pattern on the substrate.
Polymers such as PDMS have replaced silicon and glass and are widely used in the lithography production of microfluidic devices.
Advantages of Microfluidic Systems
- Reduce the use of expensive reagents and reduce costs
- Use trace amounts of samples and reagents in experiments
- Shorter analysis time, faster results
- High resolution and sensitivity of molecular detection and separation
- Laminar or smooth flow in tiny channels enables greater flow control
- Better control of experimental parameters and sample concentration on a micro-scale
- Compared with the large-scale machine in the experiment, it reduces the footprint of the analysis and diagnosis system
Application of Microfluidics
As a multi-purpose science and technology, microfluidics has been used in most experimental sciences and engineering, such as molecular and cell biology research, fluid dynamics, micro-mixing, point-of-care diagnosis, genetics, lab-on-a-chip, tissue engineering, organs on a chip, drug delivery devices and fertility testing.
- Flow chemistry
- Production of hydrogel beads
- Polymer Nanoparticle Synthesis
- Production of droplets and emulsions
- Bubble generation
- Point of care
- Synthetic Biology
- Single-cell encapsulation
- Dynamic microfluidic cell culture
- Biocompatible scaffold generation
Figure 1. Favorable features of microfluidic techniques toward the preparation of polymeric particles. (Liu D. F, et al. 2017)
- Waldbaur A, et al. (2011). “Let There Be Chip-Towards Rapid Prototyping of Microfluidic Devices: One-Step Manufacturing Processes.” Anal. Methods. 3: 2681-2716.
- Liu D. F, et al. (2017). “Microfluidic-Assisted Fabrication of Carriers for Controlled Drug Delivery.” Lab Chip. 17: 1856-1883.
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