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Updated 2:15 PM December 9, 2008




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Lab-on-a-chip kit a 2008 top innovation

An engineering professor's make-your-own-microfluidic-device kit has been named one of The Scientist magazine's top 10 innovations of 2008.

A microfluidic device, also known as a "lab on a chip," integrates multiple laboratory functions onto one chip just millimeters or centimeters in size. The devices could lead to instant home tests for illnesses, food contaminants and toxic gases. But they are not easy to build from scratch, even for scientists and engineers.

Mark Burns, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering and a professor in that department and in biomedical engineering, developed the 16-piece set of microfluidic device building blocks with graduate student Minsoung Rhee. His kit in essence brings the lab on a chip to the scientific masses. It cuts the costs and the time involved in making one from days to minutes.

"While construction of microfluidic systems is not difficult or expensive, there is a large energy barrier for people not familiar with the fabrication techniques or who do not have access to the necessary equipment," Burns says. "This barrier is usually enough to stop what might be very important research. The assembly blocks allow essentially anyone to construct a unique microfluidic system."

Burns' system offers 6-by-6-millimeter blocks etched with different arrangements of grooves researchers can use to make a custom device by sticking them to a piece of glass. The blocks can be used more than once.

A paper on the kit was a cover story of the August issue of Lab on a Chip. The December issue of The Scientist details the magazine's top 10 innovations of the year.

"This innovation was chosen because it is something scientists can use in the lab that will have a significant impact on their experiments," says Alison McCook, deputy editor at The Scientist.

A panel of scientists who use life sciences technology judged the innovations.

The University is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

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