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Turn Down the Volume: Microfluidic Systems in Biotechnology and Fluid Dynamics

Turn Down the Volume
Reported by
Sarah Webb

Posted December 17, 2008


Microfluidics—systems that move fluids through sub-millimeter-scale channels—provide a platform for studying a variety of scientific questions. Microfluidic devices have become one design tool for producing lab-on-a-chip technology for use as low-volume sensors, diagnostics, and high-throughput screening devices in biology, biotechnology, chemistry, engineering, and other fields. In addition, such systems can serve as a basic research tool for observing the fundamental physical properties of structured viscous fluids.

At the October 22, 2008, meeting of the Soft Materials Discussion Group, researchers described the contributions of microfluidic systems as engineering tools for biotechnology and basic research. In biotechnology, microfluidics could help structural biologists optimize the growth of protein crystals and acquire protein structural data more quickly and efficiently. In addition, such systems are allowing physics researchers to observe, describe, and understand fundamental dynamic patterns in the flow behavior of structured viscous fluids.

Web Sites

Accelerated Technologies Center for Gene to 3D Structure
The Accelerated Technologies Center for Gene to 3D Structure (ATCG3D) is an NIH Protein Structure Initiative Specialized Center focused on the accelerated development, integration, and deployment of three emerging technologies (tunable laboratory X-ray source, synthetic gene design, and nanovolume microfluidic crystallization) which have high potential to improve the economics of protein structure determination by X-ray crystallographic methods.

Ismagilov Group
The Ismagilov group aims to control and understand complex chemical and biological systems in space and time using microfluidics.

Quake Group
Quake's group pioneered the development of Microfluidic Large Scale Integration (LSI), demonstrating the first integrated microfluidic devices with thousands of mechanical valves.

Lab on a Chip
The journal covers microfluidic and nanotechnologies for chemistry, biology, and bioengineering.

The Gallery of Fluid Motion
Enjoy the art of fluid dynamics website, the internet home of the Annual Gallery of Fluid Motion exhibit held at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society.

Journal Articles

Squires TM, Quake SR. 2005. Microfluidics: fluid physics at the nanoliter scale. Rev. Mod. Phys. 77: 977-1026. (PDF, 3.27 MB) Full Text

Seth Fraden

Chayen NE. 2004. Turning protein crystallisation from an art into a science. Curr. Opin. Struct. Bio. 14: 577-583.

Chayen NE. 2005. Methods for separating nucleation and growth in protein crystallisation. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 88: 329-337.

Gerdts CJ, Tereshko V, Yadav MK, et al. 2006. Time-controlled microfluidic seeding in nL-volume droplets to separate nucleation and growth stages of protein crystallization. Ang. Chem. Int. Ed. 45: 8156-8160. (PDF, 641 KB) Full Text

Hansen CL, Classen S, Berger JM, Quake SR. 2006. A microfluidic device for kinetic optimization of protein crystallization and In Situ structure determination. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128: 3142-3143.

Shim JU, Cristobal G, Link DR, et al. 2007. Control and measurement of the phase behavior of aqueous solutions using microfluidics. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 129: 8825-8835.

Dertinger SKW, Chiu DT, Jeon NL, Whitesides GM. 2001. Generation of gradients having complex shapes using microfluidic networks. Anal. Chem. 73: 1240-1246.

Hansen CL, Sommer MOA, Quake SR. 2004. Systematic investigation of protein phase behavior with a microfluidic formulator. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 101: 14431-14436. Full Text

Shim JU, Cristobal G, Link DR, et al. 2007. Using microfluidics to decouple nucleation and growth of protein crystals. Crystal Growth & Design 7: 2192-2194. (PDF, 447 KB) Full Text

Thomas Mason

Cubaud T, Mason TG. 2006. Folding of viscous threads in diverging microchannels. Phys. Rev. Lett. 96: 114501. (PDF, 1.23 MB) Full Text

Cubaud T, Mason TG. 2006. Folding of viscous threads in microfluidics. Phys. Fluids 18: 091108. (PDF, 5.09 MB) Full Text

Cubaud T, Mason TG. 2007. Swirling of viscous fluid threads in microchannels. Phys. Rev. Lett. 98: 264501.

Cubaud T, Mason TG. 2007. A microfluidic aquarium. Phys. Fluids 19: 091108. (PDF, 290 KB) Full Text

Cubaud T, Mason TG. 2008. Capillary threads and viscous droplets in square microchannels. Phys. Fluids 20: 053302. (PDF, 1.07 MB) Full Text


Seth Fraden, PhD

Brandeis University
e-mail | web site | publications

Seth Fraden is a professor of physics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He completed his bachelor's degree at the University of California, Berkeley and his PhD at Brandeis University. His postdoctoral work was at the Hochfeld Magnet Labor of the Max Planck Institute in Grenoble, France. He received the 2008 Innovation Prize of the International Organization of Biological Crystallization.

Thomas G. Mason, PhD

University of California, Los Angeles
e-mail | web site | publications

Thomas G. Mason is associate professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department and physics and astronomy department at the University of California-Los Angeles. He completed his BS in electrical engineering and physics at the University of Maryland, College Park and his MA and PhD in physics at Princeton University. After postdoctoral work at Princeton, CNRS in Bordeaux, France, and at Johns Hopkins University, he moved into an industrial research position at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering in 1997. He started his research group at UCLA in 2003. He and Thomas Cubaud received the Gallery of Fluid Motion Award in 2006 and 2007 for the research presented in this talk. Mason was recently elected as a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Sarah Webb

Before hanging up her labcoat, Sarah Webb earned a PhD in bioorganic chemistry from Indiana University. Based in Brooklyn, NY, she writes about science, health, and technology for publications including Science, Science News, Discover, and Nature Reports Stem Cells.