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Dolomite Developed Large-Scale Microfluidic Devices in a Multi-Layer Format

Published on August 5, 2008 at 12:16 PM

Royston based microfluidic company, Dolomite, has announced that they have recently succeeded in the development and fabrication of large-scale multi-layer microfluidic devices and that they are currently in discussion with several international companies interested in the exciting opportunities that this new microfluidic technology offers.

Dolomite has become a recognised world leader in the field of Microfluidics, a technology also known as ‘lab on a chip'. It is an exciting new field of science and engineering that enables very small-scale fluid control and analysis, allowing instrument manufacturers to develop smaller, more cost-effective and more powerful systems. With lab-on-a-chip technology, entire complex chemical management and analysis systems are created in a microfluidic chip and interfaced with, for example, electronic and optical detection systems.

"Being able to design microfluidic devices in a multi-layer format gives us the freedom to make far more complex devices," said Philip Holmewood, Engineering Manager. "At the moment we are working with 3-layer devices, but already this offers the possibility to massively improve the performance of devices such as our 'droplet generation' chip and our 'reactor' chips. We now have the potential to create a chip that could produce 32,000 droplets per second. For industries such as drug discovery and drug development, this level of microfluidic technology is very exciting news."

The fabrication processes used to create a microfluidic device have some similarity to those used in the electronics industry. The channels through which the fluids flow and interact are etched into materials such as glass or polymers using similar photolithography processes, for example. The patterned layers are then very accurately aligned and fused together and drilled to provide microscopic ports through which the chemicals or gases can enter and leave the device.

"The big challenge with multi-layer development has been the requirement to ensure that the internal glass layers of the device do not suffer any marking whilst being processed," said Philip. "In this respect the manufacturing process can be quite challenging. However, we feel confident that we now have the technology and processes in place to deliver the complexity and quality that this markets is moving towards."

Dolomite was established with the assistance of £2m funding from the UK Department of Trade and Industry's Micro and Nano Technology (MNT) Manufacturing Initiative; this allowed Dolomite to establish excellent microfabrication facilities that include cleanrooms, precision glass processing facilities and applications laboratories. In addition to this, Dolomite has managed to attract top quality engineering and scientific staff with strong backgrounds across the broad range of disciplines required for success in bringing microfluidics applications to the market, including chemistry, biotechnology, control system development, electronics, physics and instrument design and supply.

“Another exciting aspect of this development is that the specific benefits of microfluidics such as the accuracy and small size format can now be applied to production volumes for the first time,” said Philip. “We can ‘number up’ the processes in a chip, maybe even a hundred times. This will enable the chip to deliver production level volumes which are currently undertaken using more traditional batch chemistry processes that may be slower and less accurate.”

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