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This lab-on-a-chip device can easily fit into the palm of your hand.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
"The chemistry or biochemistry laboratory does not represent a benchmark of modern engineering accomplishment." (Jacobson & Michael). That statement is becoming increasingly outdated as micromachine devices and techniques are being applied to the chemistry and biochemistry fields. The most developed of these technologies is aptly named "lab-on-a-chip", and is poised to provide chemistry and biochemistry professionals with a powerful new tool. The driving idea behind lab-on-a-chip is to reduce a chemistry laboratory and all of its capabilities to a microscopic level. Creating this minute laboratory is a complex procedure which requires many different micromachine devices. The possibilities and benefits of this technology seem almost endless.
This nanotitrator is composed of planar electrode and a microchannel and utilises four different types of titrations.

SAMLAB, IMT, University of Neuchâtel
Shrinking a conventional chemistry laboratory down to the size of a credit card is the driving concept behind lab-on-a-chip technology. Many lab-on-a-chip devices have common features. In essence, each chip will have one or more sample/chemical deposit areas, chemical measuring devices, chemical mixing chambers, fluid channels to move the mixtures around, and temperature controlled chemical reaction chambers. A lot of these common features are well-developed technologies. Micropumps, microvalves, and micro flow sensors are the devices that control the fluid movement on a chip. Fluid channels the size of a human hair are easily etched into silicon or glass, and reaction chambers can be fashioned in the same manner.
Complex reactions with many chemicals can take place on a lab-on-a-chip device; the products of these chemical reactions can be pumped into a different chamber for another reaction, or they can be separated and used for analysis. The possibilities for chemistry on a chip nearly match the macroscopic chemistry laboratory possibilities, and the gap is rapidly closing. These microchannels are fabricated to different sizes and can carry fluid from one chip location to another.
Micronozzles are being developed for use in micro-mass spectroscopy (ie. determining the size of particles).

SAMLAB, IMT, University of Neuchâtel
What exactly are the possibilities of lab-on-a-chip technology? There is potential for environmental monitoring ( eg. monitoring the concentrations of gases and pollutants in a certain area), cell sorting, protein separation, detection of biological weapons, blood analysis (such as red cell and platelet counts), drug screening systems, drug development, chemical production plants, and portable DNA analysis. Another promising application is monitoring the biostatus of astronauts in space. A small, lightweight device that could monitor an astronaut's health (eg. oxygen & carbon dioxide levels in blood, blood pressure, breathing and heart rates, calcium concentration in blood, and the rate of muscle atrophy and bone mass loss, etc.) would be helpful to determine the exact effects of a weightless environment on a human. It would also allow ground control to monitor the health status of the astronauts. Currently, there are micro-chips which perform specialized chemical processes, such as DNA analysis. However, since the field is relatively new, there is no chip which encompasses all that a macroscopic chemistry laboratory has to offer. Yet.

One day, a lab-on-a-chip device may constantly monitor an astronaut's health.

Lab-on-a-chip technology will help soldiers determine if biological weaponry is being used.
Watchtower Society
Chemical production may one day move to a microscopic level.

Microsoft Encarta
DNA sequencing will be portable, cheap, fast, and reliable when it is fully developed on a microchip.

Chemical Graphics

There are many benefits to using a miniature laboratory over a conventional laboratory. Many chemicals used in chemistry and biochemistry are very expensive, so the prospect of using very tiny amounts of chemical for an application is very appealing. Another advantage of using very small amounts of chemicals is that they will mix and react quickly. This will greatly reduce the time of some chemical analyses, such as DNA sequencing. Also, some chemicals and reaction products can be very harmful to humans. So another benefit of lab-on-a-chip devices is that they minimize human interaction with harmful chemicals and reaction products. Furthermore, lab-on-a-chip devices will be inexpensive if mass-produced because they are manufactured using highly developed microelectronic fabrication techniques.

Micro-chemistry and biochemistry laboratories are becoming a high-tech tool for many different applications. DNA sequencing, blood analysis, and various other applications will be improved upon by using lab-on-a-chip technology. Their size, coupled with the fact that they can be mass-produced, makes them appealing solutions to many problems.

 © 2001 SMA/MEMS Research Group 
 Last modified: Aug 17,2001