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Digital Microfluidics 96

herrd0kt0r writes "A brilliant team of researches at Duke University have been working on digital microfluidics, with potential applications in biotech labs-on-a-chip, optical routers/switches, wavelength division multiplexers and the like. Essentially, this team has developed a solid state device capable of moving very small drops of fluid over very small distances with very little power. From their website they remark that "[m]icrofluidic processing is performed on unit-sized packets of fluid which are transported, stored, mixed, reacted, or analyzed in a discrete manner using a standard set of basic instructions." Their site includes eight .mpgs demonstrating their microfluidics tech in real-time. Be sure to take a gander at this video showing programmable flow of droplets as well as this one showing droplet splitting and formation."
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Digital Microfluidics

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  • Interesting concept, but what uses?
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mikewas ( 119762 ) <wascher @ g m a> on Saturday August 03, 2002 @08:02PM (#4006169) Homepage

      What good is the electric light. You need a gas light to see the dim glow!

      Cars! You need a mechanic to ride along to keep it running. Just toys for rich playboys.

      ATT gave up the right to enter the computer business in exchange for keeping the monopoly on phone service for a few more years. What possible use could there be for C & UNIX outside of a few research instituions?

      IBM let the PC industry slip through their fingers because they viewed them as toys, nothing there that should distract them from their mainframe business.

      I doubt that anybody will really know the answer to your question, no matter what it's asked about, except in hindsight.

      • Let me be the first to predict that this technology will be used to manufacture the most precision-shaken or stirred martinis science can create.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

      Some applications might be:

      - chemical analyzers for bonb detection, drug detection, polutant detection, purity analysis, etc.

      - hydraulic applications such as you see in full scale in real life (a nano bulldozer, heh)

      - steam engine applications maybe? Turn that AMD heat pig of yours into a small, closed-system electical generator

      Anyway, I'm sure there are many more potential applications, but you get the idea.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mercaptan ( 257186 ) on Saturday August 03, 2002 @08:48PM (#4006262) Homepage
      W00t! No more pipetting.

      This has some very useful applications. I work in a genetics lab doing a lot of molecular biology work with primate genomes.

      It's still a needle in a haystack issue. We deal with nanograms of DNA suspended in microliters of liquids. The microliter is pretty much the limit of what we can manually manipulate, anything less and it gets damn expensive. As it is, there's a lot of suspending, centrifuging, and shaking going on in the lab; a lot of work and time to manipulate a very small amount of material.

      If I could just load my sample onto a microfluidics device and 'manipulate' everything by executing commands, life would be much easier. You'd probably avoid a lot of loss and contamination issues with this type of technology. The amounts of expensive reagents used could be reduced significantly. It'd be like a tiny tiny molecular biology lab in a box.

      Those are just some of the research possiblities. I'm sure you could have a 'farm' of these microfluidics devices to do production level work.
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by slickwillie ( 34689 ) on Saturday August 03, 2002 @10:37PM (#4006557)
      Maybe it could be used to write your name in yellow on a single snowflake.
    • you could have tanks of different chemicals that are all touched by this device... the device could mix the chemials together in a precise way and output it into another tank... basically it wouyld take the work out of mixing chemicals making production easier/cheaper
    • Well, imagine a PCI card with a handful of fragrances and one of those chips for mixing...

      Anyone care for a NoseBlaster card?

      Marcio Luis Teixeira

  • by rcs2 ( 261027 )
    Vodka Martini.... microprocessed, not stirred.
  • Sure, direct links to .mpg files on slashdot, what the heck were they thinking?
  • [m]icrofluidic processing? I was going to enroll in the "vapoware 101" class that Duke was offering but for some reason the web site is down.
    • by Evil Pete ( 73279 ) on Sunday August 04, 2002 @04:25AM (#4007231) Homepage

      Wow. I remember reading about fluidic processing in the late 1960s. Must've gone from the "valve" stage to to the IC (Integrated Conduit ?) ;-) since then. Hey, check out this fluidic amplifier [] ... not very micro back then eh ?

      Man that must really take persistence working on a tech bywater for 40 years waiting for it to come good. Mind you I think I remember even back then there being real world applications for this ... slow processing in hostile environments where electronics would get fried etc ... I think from memory it used the Coanda Effect or something for switching fluid streams. And there were adds in New Scientist for years afterwards selling DIY fluidics kits.

      Well maybe at last its time has come ...

      • I remember there being a big writeup in the Van Norstrand Scientific Encyclopedia , around 1965 (3rd or 4th ed.?) about fluidics. IIRC, they discussed possible applications for environments inhospitable
        to electronics, like washing machines. . .

        Was a fun read. I donated my copy to Lincoln Tech in Allentown, so if you're in the area. . .
  • by faeryman ( 191366 ) on Saturday August 03, 2002 @07:57PM (#4006154) Homepage
    Thus a wide range of established chemistries and protocols can be seamlessly transferred to a nanoliter droplet format.

    Can it be used for TCP/IP? If so I would like to electrowet those mpegs to my computer. Stupid /. effect..
  • You guys are hammering the duke site and I was trying to mirror their stuff for a project I am working on. Very neat stuff, hope to have my mirror up soon.
  • Mirror... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Huge Pi Removal ( 188591 ) <> on Saturday August 03, 2002 @08:10PM (#4006187) Homepage
    Programmable flow []

    Droplet splitting and formation []



    (I reserve the right to take them down if you kill my web server too :) )
  • Does anyone else get an eerie Terminator feeling from those dancing droplets?
  • casemod! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pixitha ( 589341 )
    im thinking, some blacklight reflective liquid, on the top of the case, moving around in different patterns. Or coat the top of the whole case with a mapped out electirc grid, and you make it so whatever shape you want it to draw (controlled by the computer) it does! it could look pretty bad ass if you did a good job...oh and you didn't move your case.
  • I had a weird vision of things to come the other day...

    I dreamt in the future, man will have developed his skills of genetic engineering and stem cell research to the point where he can make things that are only science fiction now..

    For example, I started thinking about genetically engineered photovoltic algea. I saw big gigantic pools of green liquid converting sunlight to electricity using completely enviromentally friendly and biodegradeable algea.

    I also thought about genetically engineered eyeballs that could do the same thing. Imagine 100 foot eyeballs looking up at the sky in the desert. Or genetically engineered eyeballs for space observation.

    Just another one of those weird topics, on a weird day. Just to humor myself, does anyone know of any research being done into this field?

    • Yeah, I'll second that.

      Somewhere, somebody must be doing research on 100 foot eyeballs looking up at the sky in the desert.

      I mean, what's government spending for if not for projects like that.

      (Actually, I feel like those 100 ft eyes are looking down at me)
      • i was thinking about this sort of thing a few days ago - how long till we have genetica(?)lly modified creatures who's sole purpose in life is to eat our waste and run really fast on treadmills to make us electricity?

        is biological engineering ever likely to be more productive than machines?

        well if not it would be pretty cool [cruel] anyway!

        like the affront in Excession (iain m banks)

        specialising soley in the sale of capes
    • isn't that pools of alge converting light into energy in some book? cuz i swear ive seen/heard that b4, if its not, then damn. creepy dreams
  • Fluids that compute, eh? How far is it from here to mimetic polyalloys []?
  • by herrd0kt0r ( 585718 ) on Saturday August 03, 2002 @08:59PM (#4006294)
    this whole shebang about microdroplet formation and movement is especially incredible when considering lab-on-a-chip applications for the biotech industry.

    one of the biggest problems with current solutions is the difficulty in utilizing small samples of blood/fluid. the solid-state approach of this team is great in that there are, by definition, NO MOVING PARTS! nothin to break down, and nothin to shrink down either. so you can keep things puny. the fluid volume in these experiments are in the _nanoliter_ range. and they have demonstrated their ability to split and reform droplets.

    so imagine this: you have a limited quantity of blood to analyze, and wanna run a bazillion tests. no sweat. with this tech, you can suck off puny portions at a time! you can move them around however you'd like as well, to whatever assays you'd like to run.

    the team has also demonstrated excellent droplet mixing results as well. why is this important? well, with fluid volumes that small, it is difficult to mix solutions. their electrowetting approach has yielded results that show excellent mixing. this is good for labs-on-a-chip as well, as you may need to mix different things together for certain assays.

    the potential for this kind of technology is pretty staggering. very small. very little power. no moving parts. use em for switches of many sorts! or hell, did you check out the video where they move the drop at over 200 hertz?!


    that's fast! eesh! but screw all this serious stuff. i think we can _all_ enjoy the first video showing the droplet performing humping maneuvers. aww jeah.
    • I agree--this technology will easily replace small tube systems once it catches on. And, with advancement in the tech, who knows what else it might replace. Digital plumbing may not be too far off. ;)
    • by Dratman ( 552554 ) <> on Sunday August 04, 2002 @12:22AM (#4006809) Homepage
      To put those "bazillion tests" and "puny portions" into perspective, note that most of the movies show droplet sizes of 700 nl.

      Thus a typical blood tube of about 7 ml would yield 7.0E-3 / 7.0E-7 = 1.0E4 = 10,000 droplets! If the blood were diluted (likely), the number of droplets per tube would be correspondingly increased.

      Under these circumstances, blood could be automatically mixed with many different assay reagents, perhaps in widely varying concentrations. Each reagent would be used in such miniscule quantities that the total cost per test would be negligible. Colorimetric analysis of the results would be trivially accomplished by directing the mixed droplets past sensing stations.

      Some droplets could be sent to storage areas for timed incubation, while others moved through faster test procedures elsewhere on the chip.

      If the droplets contained bacteria in suspension, they could be systematically exposed to a huge variety of prospective antibiotic compounds in parallel at extremely low cost without the need for cumbersome slides, vials, and so forth.
  • Sure, direct links to .mpg files on slashdot. What the heck were they thinking?
  • I've mirrored the videos on KaZaA. Here's the names:

    electrowe tting.mpg
    r otary_flow.mpg

    And I put 'Mike Pollack' in the author field.

    There oughta be a /. channel on some P2P network for mirrored multmedia files.
  • A while back Slashdot ran a story aout micro engines. If I recall correctly werent they having probles with fluid aka fuel flowing through those little suckers due to them being small etc etc dont have time to go back and read it work soon. Anyways maybe these two techs can be combied if they can make it small enough to run on the micro engines. My 2 cents.
  • This will just make fluids [] all the more important []. And we know what happens [] when such things become put into law [].
  • No lame attempts at humor please. :p

  • This puts us closer to handheld DNA analysis from a PDA. How soon till police in the field can check one's identity with a palm or pocketpc? (assuming you won't tell them).
    • Seems that in addition to being an investigational aid, it could eventually become useful for security. Or not (unless it was rigged to only take "live" samples checking for body temp, etc. -- bodily fluids aren't that hard to come by otherwise).

    • This puts us closer to handheld DNA analysis from a PDA. How soon till police in the field can check one's identity with a palm or pocketpc? (assuming you won't tell them).

      If a police officer has a reason to talk to you (you're speeding, tresspassing, staring at everyone around you...), then you need to identify yourself. If you *don't* tell them who you are, they can just haul you in on suspicion...

      Our check against abuse of this is (judging from State Troopers having tri-copy speeding tickets, while METER MAIDS have automatic printers) making them fill out paperwork.

  • Wait.....ya lost me.
  • there was a comment above posted by anonymous coward that i'd thought i'd pass along. he just posted a full mirror of the site:

    apparently, you guys blew up.

  • Two obligatory points I have not seen yet... (maybe because they were modded down)...

    1) Wonder what a beowulf cluster of those would work like (bad-dum dum[b])

    2) Once this is mass-produced, overclockers could do amazing things, considering the likely heat-dissipating properties of such a product.

    (Hey, I'm here to post, not to think!)

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