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Introducing Microfluidics To Electrical Engineers: An Integrated Problem Based Learning Experience

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovations in ECE Education I

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.971.1 - 12.971.11



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Paper Authors


Ian Papautsky University of Cincinnati

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IAN PAPAUTSKY received his Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Utah in 1999. He is currently a tenured Associate Professor of in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. His research and teaching interests include application of MEMS and microfluidics to biology and medicine.

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Ali Asgar Bhagat University of Cincinnati

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ALI ASGAR S. BHAGAT received his M.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 2006, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. His research interests include microfluidics and MEMS devices for chemical and biological assays. He was the teaching assistant for the Biochip Laboratory course discussed in this paper.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Introducing Microfluidics to Electrical Engineers: An Integrated Problem-Based Learning Experience


Microfluidics is a multidisciplinary field comprising of physics, chemistry, engineering and biotechnology that studies the behavior of fluids at the microscale and the design of systems that take advantage of such behavior. The behavior of fluids at the microscale differ from “macrofluidic” behavior in that factors such as surface tension, energy dissipation, and electrokinetics begin to dominate. Integrating microfluidics with sensors, actuators, or other electronics provides for new applications.1-3 Even more importantly, the new fluid manipulation principles have enabled manipulation and detection of nanoliter fluid samples. The behavior of such systems has been extensively investigated and explored in so-called lab-on-a-chip (LOC) systems.4,5

Recently, expanding interest in scaling down to nanometer dimensions of the channels for fluid transport opened a new window for fundamental and applied studies of nanofluidics—studies of the characteristics of flow in nanoscale systems. From the applications point of view, nanofluidics represents an important step in developing LOC systems for small-scale analysis with high throughput. The small dimensions of LOC systems reduce processing times and the amount of reagents necessary for assay, substantially reducing costs. Sample volumes for a single experiment can be in the nano to picoliter range enabling the analysis of components from single cells and single molecules. It has been recently shown that nanofluidics has advantages in biological sciences, biophysical sciences (e.g., DNA analysis) and chemistry.6,7

As previously stated, systems with microscale and nanoscale dimensions tend to behave differently than their macroscale counterparts, and the unfamiliar physics involved can require modeling and specialized training. Dozens of universities across the country have recently recruited faculty in the field of micro and nanotechnologies, specifically focusing on micro/nanofluidics and biomedical microtechnologies (or BioMEMS). These initiatives have brought the excitement of BioMEMS research to graduate studies and research programs in Electrical Engineering. While BioMEMS technologies have dramatically altered biomedical, pharmaceutical, and environmental research, they are yet to be successfully transferred to the undergraduate curricula.

Since microsystem technologies often employ techniques developed for the microelectronics industry, microfluidic devices were first fabricated in silicon, and later in glass, using standard photolithography and wet etching processes to produce planar microchannels.8 However, new physical properties resulting from the small dimensions may dominate operation of micro/nanofluidic devices. Polymer microfabrication methods have replaced much of the established silicon and glass-based MEMS fabrication techniques,9 due to complex fabrication procedures, geometric design restrictions, and costs associated with silicon and glass processes. The major advantages of polymers include a wide range of material characteristics, biochemical

Papautsky, I., & Bhagat, A. A. (2007, June), Introducing Microfluidics To Electrical Engineers: An Integrated Problem Based Learning Experience Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2832

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