A new type of device called a "lab-on-a-chip" could result in a future generation of instant home tests for illnesses, food contaminants and toxic gases. But today these portable, efficient tools are often stuck in the lab themselves. Specifically, in the labs of researchers who know how to make them from scratch. University of Michigan engineers are seeking to change that with a 16-piece lab-on-a-chip kit that brings microfluidic devices to the scientific masses. The kit cuts the costs involved and the time it takes to make a microfluidic device from days to minutes.
A lab-on-a-chip integrates multiple laboratory functions onto one chip just millimeters or centimeters in size. It is usually made of nano-scale pumps, chambers and channels etched into glass or metal. These microfluidic devices that operate with drops of liquid about the size of the period at the end of this sentence allow researchers to conduct quick, efficient experiments. They can be engineered to mimic the human body more closely than the Petri dish does.
Mark Burns, a professor in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering who developed the device with graduate student Minsoung Rhee, claims that his lab-on-a-chip kit concept is so simple, â€œyou don't need any fabrication skills to put them together." He also believes that in time, microfluidics will go the way of computers, becoming more personal as technology advances.