Microfluidics: from Monofunctional Components to Integrated Chip
Hongkai Wu
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry
Hong Kong Univ. Sci.&Tech.

Microfluidics is an emerging new field that was given birth by four disciplines: molecular analysis, biodefense, molecular biology and microelectronics. Microfluidics is “the science and technology of systems that process or manipulate small (10-9 to 10-18 liters) amounts of fluids, using channels with dimensions of tens to hundreds of micrometers.” Because the small size of microfluidics, it is capable of handling very small quantities of samples and reagents and analyzing them with high resolution and sensitivity in a short time. The whole device will be small in size with low cost. Furthermore, because the fluid can behave very different from when it is in a large scale, microfluidics can offer fundamentally new capabilities in the control of fluids and substances within the fluids in space an time.

At the initial development stage, efforts in this field are (1) how to build various microchannel systems in what materials, and (2) how to control the fluids in the microchannels with different components such as valves, mixers, pumps and heaters. To date, a rubbery material called PDMS is commonly used in most microfluidic laboratories and many microcomponents have been developed to fulfill a single function. However, to reach the full range of the promised advantages of microfluidics, the different microcomponents need to be effectively integrated together for more complex tasks with multiple steps.

Here, I am going to present our work of some examples of building unifunctional microfluidic components and the ultimate integration of multiple components to analyze chemical contents from individual biological cells (~1-10 micrometers in diameter).

*You can find excellent reviews about the recent development and future of microfluidics in a special section in Nature, 2006, volume 442, Page 351-418 written by the leading scientists in this field.

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