Science

Eco-minded scientists create plywood microfluidic chips

Eco-minded scientists create p...
These may look like Scrabble tiles, but they're potentially a lot more useful
These may look like Scrabble tiles, but they're potentially a lot more useful
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These may look like Scrabble tiles, but they're potentially a lot more useful
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These may look like Scrabble tiles, but they're potentially a lot more useful

If you've read even a few of our science articles recently, then you've probably heard about microfluidic chips. The things are typically made out of plastic, but scientists are now taking a more eco-friendly approach, by experimenting with wood.

In a nutshell, microfluidic chips have tiny channels etched onto their surfaces that allow for the analysis of very small amounts of liquids such as blood – these liquids are drawn through the channels, to mix with correspondingly-small amounts of reagents. The technology lets users rapidly and cheaply perform tests on location, as opposed to being stuck with utilizing slower and more expensive lab-based equipment.

And while the often single-use chips are quite small, they're also becoming increasingly popular, resulting in more and more plastic waste being generated. With that in mind, a University of Maryland team has begun making microfluidic chips out of laser-engraved birch plywood.

After a thin waterproofing layer of Teflon was applied to them, the prototype chips were shown to be just as efficient as their plastic counterparts at wicking in and mixing blue and red food dyes. Additionally, when used in conjunction with a fluorescence technique, they were just as accurate at measuring concentrations of proteins and live bacteria in liquid samples.

That said, the plywood chips were found to be one-tenth to one one-hundredth as expensive to manufacture as comparable plastic versions. They're currently not completely biodegradable, due to their Teflon coating, but the scientists are now looking into renewable replacement coatings such as beeswax or natural oils.

It should be noted that other teams have previously made microfluidic chips out of eco-friendly-ish materials such as cloth and paper, although the devices have reportedly been limited to simple applications.

The research, which is being led by Prof. Govind Rao, is described in a paper that was published this week in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Source: American Chemical Society

2 comments
paul314
Why not recyclable plastic? Do the various recyclable kinds not work well for microfluidics?
Douglas Bennett Rogers
These things represent a miniscule amount of material. If they were walls it might make some sense. It probably represents some saving over an all Teflon chip. Bulk Teflon is almost fully recycled because of its cost.