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Supercomputers Help Microfluidics Researchers Make Waves

In May 2013, researchers from UCLA, Iowa State and Princeton found a new way of sculpting tailor-made fluid flows by placing tiny pillars in microfluidic channels. By altering the speed of the fluid and stacking many pillars with different widths, placements, and orientations in the fluid's path, they showed that it is possible to create an impressive array of controlled flows.

Such a method will allow clinicians to separate white blood cells from other cells in a blood sample, increase mixing in industrial applications, and more quickly perform lab-on-a-chip-type operations, like DNA sequencing and chemical detection.

Hashing out the idea with Dino Di Carlo, associate professor of bioengineering at UCLA, the two researchers asked themselves if they could control the flow of fluids in microfluidic channels by placing pillars in specific locations in the path. Using both experimental methods and numerical simulations, they explored the possibilities offered by this approach and found that they could indeed create a range of predictable flows.

The equations used to determine the fluid flows are fairly straightforward, but the number of configurations needed to solve the problem required them to use the Ranger supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). Using several thousand processors concurrently, the researchers ran more than a 1,000 different problems, each representing a combination of different speeds, thicknesses, heights, or offsets.

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Also: Learn more about Monitoring Changes in the Composition of Subsurface Fluids.