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Connecting Theoretical Concepts to Physical Phenomena Using 3-D-printed Microfluidic Devices

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Hands-On Skills in BME

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Sarah Ilkhanipour Rooney University of Delaware Orcid 16x16

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Sarah I. Rooney is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Undergraduate Program in the Biomedical Engineering department at the University of Delaware, where she seeks to bring evidence-based teaching practices to the undergraduate curriculum. She received her B.S.E. (2009) and M.S.E. (2010) in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and her Ph.D. (2015) in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Peter A. Sariano


Zachary Aaron Sexton University of Delaware

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Undergraduate student at the University of Delaware studying biomedical engineering and public health policy

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Wade Gerald Stewart University of Delaware

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Wade G. Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Engineering department at the University of Delaware. He received his B.S.E. (2015) in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University.

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Kevin R. Guidry University of Delaware

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Kevin R. Guidry is the Associate Director for Educational Assessment at the University of Delaware Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning. He works with faculty on exploring new pedagogies and improving existing teaching practices to enhance student learning. Guidry specializes in assessment of student learning and survey methodology having worked on teaching, learning, and assessment research and practice at levels ranging from individual courses to projects spanning hundreds of colleges and universities.

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Jason Gleghorn University of Delaware

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Connecting Theoretical Concepts to Physical Phenomena Using 3D-Printed Microfluidic Devices

Currently, limited hands-on activities exist that allow students to visualize the physical manifestations of theoretical concepts. 96% of our sophomore and junior biomedical engineering (BME) undergraduates agreed that demonstrations and hands-on modules help them learn, which is supported by active learning literature [1-2]. More specifically, 95% agreed that a hands-on module that depicts fluid flow through channels, mimicking the circulatory system, would benefit their learning.

Microfluidics is gaining momentum as a biomedical technology [3]; however, microfluidics is often taught as an upper-level stand-alone course or in a cleanroom, which may not be practical in an undergraduate BME curriculum. Educators have incorporated microfluidics hands-on activities and shown gains in students’ understanding and interest; however, many activities require advanced microfabrication techniques, which limits implementation into a BME curriculum [4-6]. 3D printing (cost-effective, rapid, easily accessible fabrication method), has been suggested to create a mold for microfluidic channels [7].

Our goal was to develop an educational module that uses 3D printed molds of microfluidic channels, modeling flow through the circulatory system, to allow students to connect theoretical concepts to physical phenomena. We hypothesized that implementation of this lab in a sophomore-level quantitative physiology course would produce gains in student learning and interest.

Students received a PDMS microfluidic device (created with a 3D printed mold) with varying channel diameters to model the hierarchical nature of the human vasculature. Students loaded the device with a fluorescent microbead solution, connected a syringe pump, and imaged flow using microscopy. They compared their experimental solutions to analytical solutions (hand-calculations of flow/resistance) and instructor-provided computational solutions (fluid dynamics). Pre- and post-lab quiz scores were compared (paired Mann-Whitney U test) to assess learning gains. A final exam question from Spring 2017 (with microfluidics lab) was compared (Mann-Whitney U test) to Spring 2016 (without lab) to assess learning gains. Survey responses were coded to identify emergent themes.

Quiz scores significantly increased (median 3.5/4 post vs. 3/4 pre, p = 0.0001). Final exam scores did not differ (p=0.2). 87.5% agreed that the lab helped them understand the connection between theoretical calculations and physical phenomena (resistance, flow). 91% agreed that the lab increased their ability to apply engineering principles to a physiologic system. The majority (62%) thought the lab was interesting and/or it increased their interest in microfluidics. No students said the lab made them less interested in microfluidics or the circulatory system. Emergent themes included strengths of gaining an understanding of what microfluidic devices are, hands-on, and application-based.

In conclusion, we developed a lab that uses 3D printing to create microfluidic devices that model the circulatory system. Students compared numerical, analytical, and experimental solutions to gain a physical understanding of theoretical concepts.

References: 1) Prince. J Eng Educ, 2004;93:223. 2) Freeman+ Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2014;111:8410. 3) Beebe+ Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2002;4:261. 4) King+ Adv Engr Edu. 2015;4. 5) Mauk+ ASEE Annual Conference. 2014; ID10499. 6) Rust+ ASEE Annual Conference. 2013; ID6620. 7) McDonald+ Anal Chem. 2002;74:1537.

Rooney, S. I., & Sariano, P. A., & Sexton, Z. A., & Stewart, W. G., & Guidry, K. R., & Gleghorn, J. (2018, June), Connecting Theoretical Concepts to Physical Phenomena Using 3-D-printed Microfluidic Devices Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30218

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