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Title: Microfluidics  
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Subject: Nanofluidics, Hydrodynamic trapping, Nanofluidic circuitry, Albert Folch Folch, Stephen Quake
Collection: Biotechnology, Fluid Dynamics, Gas Technologies, Microfluidics, Nanotechnology
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Microfluidics is a multidisciplinary field intersecting engineering, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, nanotechnology, and biotechnology, with practical applications to the design of systems in which small volumes of fluids will be handled. Microfluidics emerged in the beginning of the 1980s and is used in the development of inkjet printheads, DNA chips, lab-on-a-chip technology, micro-propulsion, and micro-thermal technologies. It deals with the behavior, precise control and manipulation of fluids that are geometrically constrained to a small, typically sub-millimeter, scale. Typically, micro means one of the following features:

  • small volumes (µL, nL, pL, fL)
  • small size
  • low energy consumption
  • effects of the micro domain

Typically fluids are moved, mixed, separated or otherwise processed. Numerous applications employ passive fluid control techniques like capillary forces. In some applications external actuation means are additionally used for a directed transport of the media. Examples are rotary drives applying centrifugal forces for the fluid transport on the passive chips. Active microfluidics refers to the defined manipulation of the working fluid by active (micro) components as micropumps or micro valves. Micro pumps supply fluids in a continuous manner or are used for dosing. Micro valves determine the flow direction or the mode of movement of pumped liquids. Often processes which are normally carried out in a lab are miniaturized on a single chip in order to enhance efficiency and mobility as well as reducing sample and reagent volumes.


  • Microscale behavior of fluids 1
  • Key application areas 2
    • Continuous-flow microfluidics 2.1
    • Droplet-based microfluidics 2.2
    • Digital microfluidics 2.3
    • DNA chips (microarrays) 2.4
    • Molecular biology 2.5
    • Evolutionary biology 2.6
    • Microbial behavior 2.7
    • Cellular biophysics 2.8
    • Optics 2.9
    • Acoustic droplet ejection (ADE) 2.10
    • Fuel cells 2.11
    • A tool for cell biological research 2.12
    • Future Directions 2.13
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
    • Review Papers 5.1
    • Books 5.2
  • External links 6
    • Tutorials and summaries 6.1

Microscale behavior of fluids

Silicone rubber and glass microfluidic devices. Top: a photograph of the devices. Bottom: Phase contrast micrographs of a serpentine channel ~15 μm wide.

The behavior of fluids at the microscale can differ from 'macrofluidic' behavior in that factors such as surface tension, energy dissipation, and fluidic resistance start to dominate the system. Microfluidics studies how these behaviors change, and how they can be worked around, or exploited for new uses.[1][2][3][4]

At small scales (channel diameters of around 100 nanometers to several hundred micrometers) some interesting and sometimes unintuitive properties appear. In particular, the Reynolds number (which compares the effect of momentum of a fluid to the effect of viscosity) can become very low. A key consequence of this is that fluids, when side-by-side, do not necessarily mix in the traditional sense, as flow becomes laminar rather than turbulent; molecular transport between them must often be through diffusion.[5]

High specificity of chemical and physical properties (concentration, pH, temperature, shear force, etc.) can also be ensured resulting in more uniform reaction conditions and higher grade products in single and multi-step reactions.[6][7]

Key application areas

Microfluidic structures include micropneumatic systems, i.e. microsystems for the handling of off-chip fluids (liquid pumps, gas valves, etc.), and microfluidic structures for the on-chip handling of nano- and picolitre volumes.[8] To date, the most successful commercial application of microfluidics is the inkjet printhead. Significant research has also been applied to microfluidic synthesis and production of various biofunctionalized nanoparticles including quantum dots (QDs) and metallic nanoparticles,[9][10] and other industrially relevant materials (e.g., polymer particles).[11] Additionally, advances in microfluidic manufacturing allow the devices to produced in low-cost plastics[12] and part quality may be verified automatically.[13]

Preparation of biofunctionalized quantum dots using microfluidic chips for bioimaging.[9]

Advances in microfluidics technology are revolutionizing molecular biology procedures for enzymatic analysis (e.g., glucose and lactate assays), DNA analysis (e.g., polymerase chain reaction and high-throughput sequencing), and proteomics. The basic idea of microfluidic biochips is to integrate assay operations such as detection, as well as sample pre-treatment and sample preparation on one chip.[14][15]

An emerging application area for biochips is clinical pathology, especially the immediate point-of-care diagnosis of diseases. In addition, microfluidics-based devices, capable of continuous sampling and real-time testing of air/water samples for biochemical toxins and other dangerous pathogens, can serve as an always-on "bio-smoke alarm" for early warning.

Continuous-flow microfluidics

These technologies are based on the manipulation of continuous liquid flow through microfabricated channels. Actuation of liquid flow is implemented either by external pressure sources, external mechanical pumps, integrated mechanical micropumps, or by combinations of capillary forces and electrokinetic mechanisms.[16][17] Continuous-flow microfluidic operation is the mainstream approach because it is easy to implement and less sensitive to protein fouling problems. Continuous-flow devices are adequate for many well-defined and simple biochemical applications, and for certain tasks such as chemical separation, but they are less suitable for tasks requiring a high degree of flexibility or ineffect fluid manipulations. These closed-channel systems are inherently difficult to integrate and scale because the parameters that govern flow field vary along the flow path making the fluid flow at any one location dependent on the properties of the entire system. Permanently etched microstructures also lead to limited reconfigurability and poor fault tolerance capability.

Process monitoring capabilities in continuous-flow systems can be achieved with highly sensitive microfluidic flow sensors based on MEMS technology which offer resolutions down to the nanoliter range.

Droplet-based microfluidics

Droplet-based microfluidics as a subcategory of microfluidics in contrast with continuous microfluidics has the distinction of manipulating discrete volumes of fluids in immiscible phases with low Reynolds number and laminar flow regimes. Interest in droplet-based microfluidics systems has been growing substantially in past decades. Microdroplets offer the feasibility of handling miniature volumes of fluids conveniently, provide better mixing and are suitable for high throughput experiments.[18] Exploiting the benefits of droplet based microfluidics efficiently requires a deep understanding of droplet generation,[19] droplet motion, droplet merging, and droplet breakup[20]

Digital microfluidics

Alternatives to the above closed-channel continuous-flow systems include novel open structures, where discrete, independently controllable droplets are manipulated on a substrate using electrowetting. Following the analogy of digital microelectronics, this approach is referred to as digital microfluidics. Le Pesant et al. pioneered the use of electrocapillary forces to move droplets on a digital track.[21] The "fluid transistor" pioneered by Cytonix[22] also played a role. The technology was subsequently commercialized by Duke University. By using discrete unit-volume droplets,[19] a microfluidic function can be reduced to a set of repeated basic operations, i.e., moving one unit of fluid over one unit of distance. This "digitization" method facilitates the use of a hierarchical and cell-based approach for microfluidic biochip design. Therefore, digital microfluidics offers a flexible and scalable system architecture as well as high fault-tolerance capability. Moreover, because each droplet can be controlled independently, these systems also have dynamic reconfigurability, whereby groups of unit cells in a microfluidic array can be reconfigured to change their functionality during the concurrent execution of a set of bioassays. Although droplets are manipulated in confined microfluidic channels, since the control on droplets is not independent, it should not be confused as "digital microfluidics". One common actuation method for digital microfluidics is electrowetting-on-dielectric (EWOD). Many lab-on-a-chip applications have been demonstrated within the digital microfluidics paradigm using electrowetting. However, recently other techniques for droplet manipulation have also been demonstrated using surface acoustic waves, optoelectrowetting, mechanical actuation,[23] etc.

DNA chips (microarrays)

Early biochips were based on the idea of a DNA microarray, e.g., the GeneChip DNAarray from Affymetrix, which is a piece of glass, plastic or silicon substrate on which pieces of DNA (probes) are affixed in a microscopic array. Similar to a DNA microarray, a protein array is a miniature array where a multitude of different capture agents, most frequently monoclonal antibodies, are deposited on a chip surface; they are used to determine the presence and/or amount of proteins in biological samples, e.g., blood. A drawback of DNA and protein arrays is that they are neither reconfigurable nor scalable after manufacture. Digital microfluidics has been described as a means for carrying out Digital PCR.

Molecular biology

In addition to microarrays, biochips have been designed for two-dimensional

  • MIFLUS - Microfluidics Terminology tree
  • Living La Vida LOC(a): A Brief Insight into the World of "Lab on a Chip" and Microfluidics

Tutorials and summaries

  • COMSOL Multiphysics introduces the Microfluidics Module
  • [8] - Public domain sources provided by the Microfluidics Consortium

Latest articles on Fluidics:

  • Biomicrofluidics, an open access, peer reviewed journal published by the American Institute of Physics
  • MEMSuniverse, a Videos and animations of Microfluidic devices and their applications
  • Supercool microfluidics - Our understanding of life and technology at extreme temperatures could become clearer thanks to a microfluidic device that studies ice formation – reported in Chemical Technology from the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • [5] - The MFCS (Microfluidic Flow Control Systems)
  • [6] - The Elveflow OB1 Flow Controller
  • [7] - The Ohio Center for Microfluidic Innovation
  • From microfluidic applications to nanofluidic phenomena - a Chem Soc Rev themed issue showcasing the latest advances in microfluidic and nanofluidic research, guest edited by Albert van den Berg, Harold Craighead and Peidong Yang. Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry

External links

  • Bruus, Henrik (2008). Theoretical Microfluidics. Oxford University Press.  
  • Herold, KE; Rasooly, A (editor) (2009). Lab-on-a-Chip Technology: Fabrication and Microfluidics. Caister Academic Press.  
  • Title: Advances in Microfluidics, Editor: Dr. Ryan kelly, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington, USA. ISBN 978-953-510-106-2, 2012. (
  • Tabeling, P (2006). Introduction to Microfluidics. Oxford University Press.  
  • Jenkins, G; Mansfield, CD (editors) (2012). Microfluidic Diagnostics. Humana Press.  
  • Li, Xiujun (James); Zhou, Yu (editors) (2013). Microfluidic devices for biomedical applications. Woodhead Publishing.  


  • Yetisen A. K. (2013). "Paper-based microfluidic point-of-care diagnostic devices". Lab on a Chip.  
  • Whitesides G. M. (2006). "The origins and the future of microfluidics". Nature 442 (7101): 368–373.  
  • Seemann Ralf, Brinkmann Martin, Pfohl Thomas, Herminghaus Stephan (2012). "Droplet based microfluidics". Reports on Progress in Physics 75: 016601.  
  • Squires T. M., Quake S. R. (2005). "Microfluidics: Fluid physics at the nanoliter scale". Reviews of Modern Physics 77: 977–1026.  
  • Yetisen A. K. (2014). "Patent Protection and Licensing in Microfluidics". Lab on a Chip.  
  • Chen, K. (2011). "Microfluidics and the future of drug research". The University of Toronto Journal of Undergraduate Life Sciences 5 (1): 66–69. 

Review Papers

Further reading

  1. ^ S.C.Terry,J.H.Jerman and J.B.Angell:A Gas Chromatographic Air Analyzer Fabricated on a Silicon Wafer,IEEE Trans.Electron Devices,ED-26,12(1979)1880-1886.
  2. ^ Kirby, B.J. (2010). Micro- and Nanoscale Fluid Mechanics: Transport in Microfluidic Devices.  
  3. ^ Karniadakis, G.M., Beskok, A., Aluru, N. (2005). Microflows and Nanoflows.  
  4. ^ Bruus, H. (2007). Theoretical Microfluidics.  
  5. ^ Tabeling, P. (2005). Introduction to Microfluidics.  
  6. ^ V. Chokkalingam, B. Weidenhof, M. Kraemer, W. F. Maier, S. Herminghaus, and R. Seemann,"Optimized droplet-based microfluidics scheme for sol–gel reactions" Lab Chip, 2010, doi:10.1039/b926976b.
  7. ^ J Shestopalov, J. D. Tice and R. F. Ismagilov,"Multi-step synthesis of nanoparticles performed on millisecond time scale in a microfluidic droplet-based system" Lab Chip, 2004, 4, 316 - 321, doi:10.1039/b403378g.
  8. ^ Nguyen, N.T., Wereley, S. (2006). Fundamentals and Applications of Microfluidics.  
  9. ^ a b S. Hu, S. Zeng, B. Zhang, C. Yang, P. Song, D.J.H. Tng, G. Lin, Y. Wang, T. Anderson, P. Coquet, L. Liu, X. Zhang, and K.-T. Yong "Preparation of biofunctionalized quantum dots using microfluidic chips for bioimaging" Analyst, 2014, 1-21, doi:10.1039/c4an00773e.
  10. ^ Andrew J. deMello "Control and detection of chemical reactions in microfluidic systems" Nature, 2006, 442, 394-402, doi:10.1038/nature05062.
  11. ^ Wei Li, Jesse Greener, Dan Voicu and Eugenia Kumacheva "Multiple modular microfluidic (M3) reactors for the synthesis of polymer particles" Lab Chip, 2009, 9, 2715 - 2721, doi:10.1039/b906626h.
  12. ^ Ryan S. Pawell, David W. Inglis, Tracie J. Barber, and Robert A. Taylor, Manufacturing and wetting low-cost microfluidic cell separation devices, Biomicrofluidics 7, 056501 (2013);
  13. ^
  14. ^ Herold, KE; Rasooly, A (editor) (2009). Lab-on-a-Chip Technology: Fabrication and Microfluidics. Caister Academic Press.  
  15. ^ a b Herold, KE; Rasooly, A (editor) (2009). Lab-on-a-Chip Technology: Biomolecular Separation and Analysis. Caister Academic Press.  
  16. ^ Chang, H.C., Yeo, Leslie (2009). Electrokinetically Driven Microfluidics and Nanofluidics.  
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c d Venkat Chokkalingam, Jurjen Tel, Florian Wimmers, Xin Liu, Sergey Semenov, Julian Thiele, Carl G. Figdor, Wilhelm T.S. Huck, Probing cellular heterogeneity in cytokine-secreting immune cells using droplet-based microfluidics, Lab on a Chip, 13, 4740-4744, 2013, DOI: 10.1039/C3LC50945A,!divAbstract
  19. ^ a b V. Chokkalingam, S. Herminghaus, and R. Seemann,"Self-synchronizing Pairwise Production of Monodisperse Droplets by Microfluidic Step Emulsification" Applied Physics Letters 93, 254101, 2008.
  20. ^ Samie, Milad; Salari, Shafii (May 2013). "Breakup of microdroplets in asymmetric T junctions". Physical Review E 87 (05).  
  21. ^ Le Pesant et al., Electrodes for a device operating by electrically controlled fluid displacement, U.S. Pat. No. 4,569,575, Feb. 11, 1986.
  22. ^;jsessionid=D05E82394F781CBA17DB0C5AC8E3C0B8?SearchType=piSearch&page=1&QueryText=&PIFirstName=james&PILastName=brown&PIInstitution=cytonix&PIState=MD&PIZip=&PICountry=US&RestrictExpired=on&Search=Search#results
  23. ^ J. Shemesh, A. Bransky, M. Khoury, S. Levenberg,"Advanced microfluidic droplet manipulation based on piezoelectric actuation" Biomedical Microdevices doi:10.1007/s10544-010-9445-y, 2010.
  24. ^ Fan et al. (2009). "Two-Dimensional Electrophoresis in a Chip". Lab-on-a-Chip Technology: Biomolecular Separation and Analysis. Caister Academic Press.  
  25. ^ Bontoux et al. (2009). "Elaborating Lab-on-a-Chips for Single-cell Transcriptome Analysis". Lab-on-a-Chip Technology: Biomolecular Separation and Analysis. Caister Academic Press.  
  26. ^ Cady, NC (2009). "Microchip-based PCR Amplification Systems". Lab-on-a-Chip Technology: Biomolecular Separation and Analysis. Caister Academic Press.  
  27. ^ Keymer J.E., P. Galajda, C. Muldoon R., and R. Austin (November 2006). "Bacterial metapopulations in nanofabricated landscapes". PNAS 103 (46): 17290–295.  
  28. ^ Ahmed T., T.S. Shimizu, R. Stocker "Microfluidics for bacterial chemotaxis" Integrative Biology, 2010, 2, 604-629, doi:10.1039/C0IB00049C.
  29. ^ Seymour J.R., R. Simo', T. Ahmed, R. Stocker "Chemoattraction to dimethylsulfoniopropionate throughout the marine microbial food web" Science, 2010, 329, 342–345, doi:10.1126/science.1188418
  30. ^ Galajda P, J.E. Keymer, P Chaikin, R. Austin (December 2007). "A Wall of Funnels Concentrates Swimming Bacteria". Journal of Bacteriology 189 (23): 8704–8707.  
  31. ^ Angelani L., R. Di Leonardo, G. Ruocco (2009). "Self-Starting Micromotors in a Bacterial Bath". Phys. Rev. Lett. 102: 048104.  
  32. ^ Di Leonardo, R.; Angelani, L.; Ruocco, G.; Iebba, V.; Conte, M.P.; Schippa, S.; De Angelis, F.; Mecarini, F.; Di Fabrizio, E. (2010). "A bacterial ratchet motor". PNAS 107 (21): 9541–9545.  
  33. ^ Sokolova A., M.M. Apodacac, B.A. Grzybowskic, I.S. Aransona (December 2009). "Swimming bacteria power microscopic gears". PNAS 107 (3): 969–974.  
  34. ^ Liquid micro-lens array activated by selective electrowetting on lithium niobate substrates S. Grilli, L. Miccio, V. Vespini, A. Finizio, S. De Nicola, and P. Ferraro Optics Express 16, 8084-8093 (2008).
  35. ^ P. Ferraro, L. Miccio, S. Grilli, A. Finizio, S. De Nicola, and V. Vespini, "Manipulating Thin Liquid Films for Tunable Microlens Arrays," Optics & Photonics News 19, 34-34 (2008)
  36. ^ Microfluidic Flow-Scanning Optical Tomography N. C. Pégard and J. W. Fleischer, Frontiers in Optics, (2013)[1]
  37. ^ N. C. Pégard and J. W. Fleischer, Journal of Biomedical Optics 18 040503 (2013)[2]
  38. ^ C-H. Lu, N. C. Pégard and J. W. Fleischer, 2013, Applied Physics Letters, 102 161115 (2013)[3]
  39. ^ Water Management in PEM Fuel Cells
  40. ^ Building a Better Fuel Cell Using Microfluidics
  41. ^ Fuel Cell Initiative at MnIT Microfluidics Laboratory
  42. ^ Examples in each list of paper in item Team in:"[4]"
  43. ^ Amir Manbachi, Shamit Shrivastava, Margherita Cioffi, Bong Geun Chung, Matteo Moretti, Utkan Demirci, Marjo Yliperttula and Ali Khademhosseini (2008). "Microcirculation within grooved substrates regulates cell positioning and cell docking inside microfluidic channels". Lab Chip 8 (5): 747–754.  
  44. ^ Marjo Yliperttulaa, Bong Geun Chunga, Akshay Navaladia, Amir Manbachi, Arto Urtt (October 2008). "High-throughput screening of cell responses to biomaterials". European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 35 (3): 151–160.  
  45. ^ Chung BG, Manbachi A, Saadi W, Lin F, Jeon NL, Khademhosseini A. (2007). "A gradient-generating microfluidic device for cell biology.". J Vis Exp. 7 (7): 271.  
  46. ^ a b c Choi, J.W., Rosset, S., Niklaus, M., Adleman, J.R., Shea, H., Psaltis, D. "3-dimensional electrode patterning within a microfluidic channel using a metal ion implantation", Lab on a Chip 10, 738-788, 2010.
  47. ^ "Nano today 2010"
  48. ^ "Lab on chip 2011"
  49. ^ "CherryTemp temperature control system on chip"
  50. ^ AK Yetisen, L Jiang, J R Cooper, Y Qin, R Palanivelu and Y Zohar (May 2011). "A microsystem-based assay for studying pollen tube guidance in plant reproduction.". J. Micromech. Microeng. 25. 
  51. ^ Jesse Greener*, Ethan Tumarkin*, Michael Debono, Chi-Hang Kwan, Milad Abolhasani, Axel Guenther and Eugenia Kumacheva "Development and applications of a microfluidic reactor with multiple analytical probes" Analyst, 2012, 137, 444-450, doi:10.1039/C1AN15940B.
  52. ^ Jesse Greener, Ethan Tumarkin, Michael Debono, Eugenia Kumacheva "Education: a microfluidic platform for university-level analytical chemistry laboratories" Lab Chip, 2012, 12, 696-701, doi:10.1039/C2LC20951A.


See also

  • On-chip characterization:[51]
  • Microfluidics in the classroom: On-chip acid-base titrations [52]

Future Directions

  • Single cell studies [18]
  • Microenvironmental control: ranging from mechanical environment [43] to chemical environment [44]
  • Precise spatiotemporal concentration gradients [45]
  • Mechanical deformation
  • Force measurements of adherent cells
  • Confining cells [46]
  • Exerting a controlled force [46][47]
  • Fast and precise temperature control [48][49]
  • Electric field integration [46]
  • Cell culture [18]
  • Plant on a chip and plant tissue culture [50]
  • Antibiotic resistance: microfluidic devices can be used as heterogeneous environments for microorganisms. In a heterogeneous environment is easier for a microorganism to evolve. This can be useful for testing the acceleration of evolution of a microorganism / for testing the development of antibiotic resistance.

Microfluidic technology is creating powerful tools for cell biologists to control the complete cellular environment, leading to new questions and new discoveries.[42] Many diverse advantages of this technology for microbiology are listed below:

A tool for cell biological research

Microfluidic fuel cells can use laminar flow to separate the fuel and its oxidant to control the interaction of the two fluids without a physical barrier as would be required in conventional fuel cells.[39][40][41]

Fuel cells

Acoustic droplet ejection uses a pulse of ultrasound to move low volumes of fluids (typically nanoliters or picoliters) without any physical contact. This technology focuses acoustic energy into a fluid sample in order to eject droplets as small as a millionth of a millionth of a liter (picoliter = 10−12 liter). ADE technology is a very gentle process, and it can be used to transfer proteins, high molecular weight DNA and live cells without damage or loss of viability. This feature makes the technology suitable for a wide variety of applications including proteomics and cell-based assays.

Acoustic droplet ejection (ADE)

The merger of microfluidics and optics is typical known as optofluidics. Examples of optofluidic devices :
Tuneable Microlens Array[34][35]
Optofluidic Microscopes [36][37][38]


By rectifying the motion of individual swimming bacteria,[30] microfluidic structures can be used to extract mechanical motion from a population of motile bacterial cells.[31] This way, bacteria-powered rotors can be built.[32][33]

Cellular biophysics

The ability to create precise and carefully controlled microbial loop,[29] responsible for regulating much of the oceans' biogeochemistry.

Microbial behavior

By combining microfluidics with landscape ecology and nanofluidics, a nano/micro fabricated fluidic landscape can be constructed by building local patches of bacterial habitat and connecting them by dispersal corridors. The resulting landscapes can be used as physical implementations of an adaptive landscape,[27] by generating a spatial mosaic of patches of opportunity distributed in space and time. The patchy nature of these fluidic landscapes allows for the study of adapting bacterial cells in a metapopulation system. The evolutionary ecology of these bacterial systems in these synthetic ecosystems allows for using biophysics to address questions in evolutionary biology.

Three Micro Habitat Patches MHPs connected by dispersal corridors (indicated here as J_{i,j}) into a 1D lattice. The ecosystem service (of habitat renewal) to each MHP represented here as \lambda_i (red arrows). Each MHP can also hold different carrying capacity K_i for its supporting local population of bacterial cells (depicted in green).

Evolutionary biology


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