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Purdue engineers develop quick, inexpensive method to prototype microchips

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University researchers have developed a new method to quickly and inexpensively create microfluidic chips, analytic devices with potential applications in food safety, biosecurity, clinical diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and other industries.

"This development democratizes the preparation of microfluidic biochips," said Michael Ladisch, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. "This brings the design and manufacture of these devices within reach of scientists in many laboratories who can now easily test their ideas and conduct research within a typical laboratory setting."

Microfluidics is a branch of nanotechnology that involves manipulating minute quantities of liquids, typically in a chip device approximately the size of a postage stamp. The initial design and manufacture of these chips often requires weeks of work, but the new approach developed by Ladisch and Tom Huang, a graduate student in chemical engineering, cuts that time to hours.

Microchips have traditionally been made through a lengthy and expensive process called photolithography, which uses X-rays or ultraviolet light to form a pattern on a glass or silicon wafer that is then etched by washing the wafer with a variety of solvents. The key to controlling the shape and size of the patterns on the wafer is the production of a template, which can take weeks to develop.

Ladisch and his team have developed an alternative method that uses materials easily acquired by any research laboratory, including glass microscope slides, tweezers, thin glass fibers such as those found in glass wall insulation, and a flexible polymer called PDMS that is available from most scientific supply companies.

"What we've done is really thinking outside of the box," said Nate Mosier, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering who also contributed to this project. "This is a rad
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Contact: Jennifer Cutraro
jcutraro@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
7-Jan-2004


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