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Apr 1, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 7)

MF3 Fosters Micro/Nanofluidic Collaborations

UCI-Based Group Aids Transition from Prototype to Mass-Produced Commercial Product

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    Diagram of the MF3 “ecosystem”: The three-way collaboration between academia-industry-government produces new microfluidic solutions targeting defense- and industry-driven applications. These platforms are seeded by government and industrial funds and are developed by center students and faculty. MF3 companies eventually transition into products the prototype microfluidic platforms.

    The term “micro total analysis system” (microTAS) was first introduced in 1990 when chip-level components were envisioned to carry out chemical analyses in miniaturized volumes (usually in the microliter–picoliter range) with high sensitivities and short reaction times (minutes versus hours or days). Since then the field of microfluidics has not stopped growing, with innovative components and platforms expanding into more applications in biology, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and food and environmental monitoring.

    The field has benefited tremendously from the participation of researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines including chemists, biologists, material scientists, physicists, and chemical, mechanical, electrical, and biomedical engineers. In addition, numerous large corporations have set up R&D divisions to explore commercialization opportunities in microfluidics.

    Despite significant efforts, very few microTASs have been developed that are capable of performing entire processes from sample input to sample preparation to sample detection. Most of the components developed have been for a singular function (e.g., pumps, separation, detection).

    In many practical applications such as drug discovery and genetic screening, a miniature total analysis system could be extremely beneficial in terms of consumable reduction and faster reaction times. The roadblock to the development of such microfluidic systems may be rooted in the decentralized, somewhat arbitrary genesis of this field.

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