Frugal Science: Improving Health Across the Globe

Troy Brown, RN


June 15, 2017

In This Article

Punch Card-Programmable Microfluidics: A Chemistry Kit in a $5 Device

A music box provided the inspiration for a hand-cranked tool that uses microfluidic technology to perform laboratory assays.[14] "Combining the idea of punch card programming with arbitrary fluid control, here we describe a self-contained, hand-crank powered, multiplex and robust programmable microfluidic platform. A paper tape encodes information as a series of punched holes. A mechanical reader/actuator reads these paper tapes and correspondingly executes operations onto a microfluidic chip coupled to the platform in a plug-and-play fashion," wrote researchers George Korir, PhD candidate, Bioengineering Department, Stanford University, and Dr Prakash.[14] Dr Prakash won a Popular Science award for this invention in 2015.[15]

Microfluidics is a "technology based on geometrically constrained minute volume transport through channels in a glass or plastic chip. The 'micro-' in microfluidics refers to small volumes (nL, pL, fL), small size, low energy consumption, or physical effects of the micro domain."[16]

Microfluidic technology has such advantages as reduced reagent consumption, miniaturized reaction volumes, and the potential to deliver robust and rapid results.[16]

"Small volume fluid handling in single and multiphase microfluidics provides a promising strategy for efficient bio-chemical assays, low-cost point-of-care diagnostics and new approaches to scientific discoveries. However multiple barriers exist towards low-cost field deployment of programmable microfluidics. Incorporating multiple pumps, mixers and discrete valve based control of nanoliter fluids and droplets in an integrated, programmable manner without additional required external components has remained elusive," the researchers explained.[14]

"We believe that combining the capability to program general purpose microfluidic systems using punch card tapes and utilizing a hand-crank based power source can bring a broad range of capabilities outside of lab settings and into real-world field conditions. This makes future diagnostic instruments built on the presented platform truly portable," the researchers wrote.[14]

Dr Prakash explains the creation of the $5 chemistry set in this video.


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