Microfluidics is the science that deals with the precise control and manipulation of small volumes of fluids in network of microchannels. Generally, micro means one of the following features: small volumes (μL, nL, pL, fL) and small size leading to low energy consumption and special microdomain effects. Small size means at least one dimension of the channel must be in the range of micrometers.
The behavior of fluids at microscale can differ from macroscale behavior. Factors such as surface tension, energy dissipation, and fluidic resistance start to dominate the system at micro level. A microfluidic chip or device contains a network of microchannels, which are connected to the outside of the channel by inputs and outputs pierced through the chip. Such connections serve as an interface between the macro- and microworld.
Through these holes, the liquids or gas are injected and removed from the microfluidic chip. The small size of microfluidic devices offers several advantages including less sample and reagent consumption, low cost, short analysis time, portability, etc. Microfluidic technologies are not just for education and research.
These technologies have now been incorporated into many commercial products. Inkjet printheads are an example of the most successful application of microfluidics. Printers used to reproduce digital images produced by computers commonly use such inkjet printers. Other commercial products based on microfluidics include:
- Agilent bioanalyzer: The bioanalyzer instrument provides platform for bioassays, based on electrophoresis and flow cytometry, of DNA, RNA, proteins and cells with less than four microliters of sample.
- HPLC-Chip/MS system: Produced by Agilent this system is based on microfluidic chip technology and is designed for nanospray liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS). According to the manufacturer, this system is robust, reliable, sensitive, and easy to use for biomarker discovery and validation, monoclonal antibody characterization, small-molecule analysis, phosphopeptide analysis, etc.
- Caliper LabChip platforms: Caliper of the PerkinElmer company has produced a number of LabChip devices/kits based on microfluidics involving both electrokinetic and pressure-driven flows. These devices can be used in bioassays for drug discovery applications such as small-molecule screening, fragment based screening, target specificity profiling, etc. The genomic DNA LabChip is used for DNA analysis.
- Point-of-care blood analyzers and other medical diagnostic platforms from companies including Abaxis, Abbott, Achira labs, Biosite, Biovitesse, Biolithic, Baebies, Boston Microfluidics, CardioMEMS, GenePOC, FluidMedix, Micro2Gen, Nanosphere, Nanomix, etc.