We have two areas of focus in our microfluidics effort. The first is an effort to use microfluidic devices to create new materials. The second is an effort to use drops in microfluidic devices as reaction vessels for biology.
We develop methods to create new functional materials using microfluidic devices. These devices provide capabilities for very precisely mixing fluids to form new materials. All the structures are based on drops which can both encapsulate active materials and serve as templates on which to build new structures. These have interesting properties and great technological potential for encapsulation and controlled release of a wide variety of active materials. We also consider methods to scale up the fabrication of these materials to produce practical quantities. This work is motivated by both fundamental studies and the potential for creating technologically valuable materials, and some of the work has led to industrial applications.
We develop microfluidic devices to very precisely control small drops of one fluid in a second carrier fluid. The volume of each drop is between about a picoliter and a nanoliter. We use each drop as a carrier or reaction vessel. We are able to very precisely control these reaction vessels and can mix, add, divide and sort these drops at rates of 1 to 100 kHz. This enables us to carry out very large numbers of reactions in short times with very small quantities of reagents. Many of the applications of this technology are in the study of biology, and we, therefore, typically use aqueous drops in an inert carrier oil. We use the drops to do ultra-high-throughput screening of different biomolecules. We also use the drops to encapsulate single cells, enabling us to do very high-throughput studies of populations of cells, all at the level of single cells. We are exploring a wide range of potential applications from fundamental studies of evolution to single cell selection to applications in drug discovery and diagnostics. Several of the concepts have led to the formation of start-up companies based on this technology.