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Applied microfluidics laboratory

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The Applied Microfluidics Laboratory was founded in 1995, with substantial funding from the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society and Wolfson Foundation, and specific grant funding through EPSRC, MRC, European Commission, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Welsh Government.

The laboratory has worked with over 30 companies on diverse industrial projects including KTPs and 4 EU consortia. The laboratory has made 18 IP disclosures, filed several PCT / US patents and founded microfluidics companies such as Q-Chip Ltd. (f. 2003, injectable microencapsulated pharmaceuticals; merged Midatech; AIM floated 2014, Nasdaq listed 2015).

It is directed by Professor David Barrow and Co-director Dr. Jin Li.

Technical features

The laboratory has been adept at constructing custom design instrumentation set-ups for specific scientific applications, ranging from hybrid microdevice integration to bespoke micro-instruments for cellular encapsulation, fusion target fabrication and the manufacture of artificial cells.

The laboratory also accommodates the following facilities: -

  • COMSOL MultiPhysics Modelling Suite and high-end computational hardware for (i) Acoustics (ii) Chemical Reaction Engineering (iii) Heat Transfer (iv) Microfluidics (v) Molecular Flow (vi) Particle Tracing (vii) Ray Optics (viii) Structural Mechanics, and (ix) Wave Optics.
  • 2m x 1.5 air levitated table for vibration-free microfluidic analysis
  • Fluid delivery through (i) several positive displacement precision syringe pump systems, and PC controlled multiport Elvsys pressure-driven delivery systems.
  • Thermofisher HPLC-quadrapoleMS analytical tools
  • EG&G PARC 2703 Electrochemical Analysis Suite
  • 400fps imaging systems for fluid flow monitoring
  • Ultimaker 2, 3, S5 (air drier+extraction) Fused Filament Printers
  • 2 x all chemical extraction hoods
  • Several substrate drying and heated vacuum ovens
  • LPKF PROTOMAT S63 Milling System
  • RF Au sputtering system
  • Jenway 2405 Spectrophotometer
  • Bruker Optical Interferometer for surface micro-and nano-analysis
  • Range of Nikon Optical Measurement Microscopes
  • Cell culture facility with 5% CO2

Practical applications

The laboratory has researched a diversity of phenomena and devices including:

  • chemical sensors
  • porous silicon
  • micro-acoustics
  • hybrid electro-optical micro-integration
  • micromoulding
  • emulsion and digital microfluidics
  • chemicals separations
  • polymer plasma etching
  • microwave sensors
  • cellular encapsulation including stem cells
  • micro-reaction engineering
  • transdermal microneedles
  • laser micromachining
  • marine microanalysis systems
  • fusion energy targets
  • zero gravity experimentation
  • protocells.

The laboratory now researches 3D multi-material additive manufacturing to create multifunctional microfluidic motherboards, that can be prototyped and revised in fast succession.

Its fundamental research is focused on compartmentalised, microscale constructs using (i) multiphase droplet microfluidics for their precision formation, (ii) liquid compartmentalisation based upon lipid bilayers, and trans-membrane proteins, (iii) oscillatory chemistry, towards construct programmability, with (iv) encapsulated cells and organelles, all directed towards creating protocells and artificial life.

This current work is focused on an international European Union research collaboration with academic and industrial entities.