Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Amazing Silicone Lab - not silicon

Silicone and silicon. Silicone is a polymer; silicon is crystaline sand. They are doing great things with silicone. A "lab on a chip" is a miniature lab that does amazing things. Fluidigm is a company that has developed a lab that on a 1.5 by 1.5 inch chip contains 30,000 hoses, 7,000 gates and 5,000 chambers where a protein is mixed with the study chemical and the reaction analyzed! ZDNet reports:
The valves are the key part, Worthington said. Microfluidic chips, designed to control the flow of liquids on a small scale, have been around for years. Miniaturizing valves, though, has been tricky. Most microfluidic chips consist of channels grooved out of silicon or glass and the valves themselves are mechanical devices. For the valves, Fluidigm exploits the flexible nature of rubber. The hoses are arranged in a perpendicular array with hoses running left and right sitting atop of hoses running up and down. Increasing the pressure on a right-left hose causes it to bulge downward. The upper walls of these hoses are thicker than the bottom walls, so they bulge in only one direction. The bulge pushes into the downward hose and pinches it off. "How do you control fluids? You do it with valves. Nobody had figured out how to make a very small value," Worthington asserted. The computer system, of course, has to precisely control the pressure in the hoses so that the appropriate reactions will take place in the reactive chambers. The system is effectively a shrunken version of the equipment drug companies use today.
Is it cheaper? Far. And its size means it uses less power and can be used in places not before imagined. Read at ZDNet about the use studying salmon in Alaska.

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