APPLICATIONS OF TECHNOLOGY:
- Lab-on-a-chip design and manufacturing
- Automated biological and chemical assays
- Chemical surface coating
- Multi-jet printing
- Artificial photosynthesis
- Simple design is easy and quick to manufacture
- Maintains separation of individual fluids
- Thin and versatile
- Inherently scalable, in theory from nanometers to meters
Berkeley Lab researchers led by Ömer Savaş and Kenneth Lee have developed an innovative biomimetic design for devices that, like networks of blood vessels or the veins of a leaf, can transport fluids from tiny to large channels in a matter of inches. Fluids transported through the Berkeley Lab devices travel in independent channels that narrow — in a stepwise, layered sequence — from macroscopic to microscopic scales. In reverse, the layered design can move fluids through channels that widen from the microscale to macroscale.
The device’s architecture can accommodate a wide variety of fluidic transport designs and mimics nature’s system of self-similarity, used to build networks of branching channels. (Self-similarity follows the same mathematical rules governing the fractal shapes of snowflakes or determining the structure of blood vessels and capillaries to build networks of branching channels.) To make a device capable of transporting fluids from a single, wide channel to multiple micro-channels, the engineering team developed a system of tiles containing a single pattern of channels and holes, built up in layers. The base layer is a single square tile containing the mother pattern; the second layer contains four daughter copies of the same, “self-similar” pattern — but at one-quarter the size. With each successive layer, the patterns remain identical, but the number of tiles increases geometrically while their size shrinks proportionally. (See Fig. 1a)
Because of the self-similarity and symmetry of these designs, the holes in each layer are perfectly positioned to transport fluids from a single mother tile to the multiple daughter tiles in the next layer. The power of the design comes into play when more than one fluid channel is etched into the initial layer. (Fig 1c-h) As the geometries shrink, layer-by-layer, the integrity of each discrete fluid channel is retained, so that two, three, or perhaps hundreds of separate channels can transport their liquids or gases from macro-to-micro, or micro-to-macro, while remaining isolated from each other. These are precisely the characteristics needed for lab-on-a-chip or artificial photosynthetic device architectures.
The system is inherently scalable. In theory, it would be possible to build a system that carries fluids from pipes measured in meters to a network of capillaries measured in nanometers, or vice versa. Channel networks can be fabricated using etching techniques pioneered in the semiconductor industry. Because of its mathematical foundations, the architecture lends itself readily to computer-aided design and manufacturing, which would be helpful for engineers as the complexity of their channel networks increases. Ultimately, this nature-inspired design system can be harnessed by engineers to build processes that improve on nature for manufacture of complex molecules or production of sustainable fuels.
This capacity to transport liquids or gases simultaneously, in isolated streams at changing volumes, is crucial for “lab-on-a-chip” devices that need to deliver reactants between micro- and macroscales. It can facilitate design of artificial photosynthetic systems that will deliver water to microscale reaction sites for solar-driven water splitting, while drawing off hydrogen and oxygen separately to avoid recombination.DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Bench-scale prototype
STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.
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REFERENCE NUMBER: IB-3088