Microfluidics experts, Dolomite, have announced that they have now optimised the fabrication of quartz microfluidic chips, enabling instrument manufacturers to benefit from the many important qualities of synthetic quartz for use within bioscience and medical systems. Dolomite is a leader in Microfluidics, a technology also known as ‘lab on a chip’. This 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.
“The standard material for this technology tends to be glass,” said Gillian Davis. “However, the use of synthetic quartz in microfluidic devices enables natural fluorescence and detection of a wide variety of compounds, especially proteins, without labeling. This allows detection of proteins in native conditions, which is important not only for realizing on-chip CZE separation of proteins, but also for investigations aimed at protein interactions for diagnostics.”
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 advantages of quartz for microfluidics are due to the facts that it is hard, chemically inert, UV transparent, non-auto-fluorescent and non-porous – making it a preferred material for applications in the bioscience sector. However, much of the challenge of the microfluidic device fabrication in this material comes from the fact that quartz is much harder than glass. Engineers at Dolomite have been working for the past year to optimize the fabrication of quartz devices and they can now etch features with depths of up to 150microns. This is far deeper than most alternative solutions on the market that can only offer depths in the region of 20microns. The etching process optimized by Dolomite ensures that the channels are optically smooth.
“The main issue is that etch times with quartz are very long,” said Gillian Davis. “We have made several important breakthroughs in the manufacturing process that have helped us optimize the process, it is now realistic for us to get depths of 50microns in regular production and maybe a maximum of 150microns for very specific projects.”
Dolomite is a leader in this field and won £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.
Established in 2005 as the world’s first microfluidic application centre, Dolomite is focussed on working with customers to turn their concepts for microfluidic applications into reality. With an in-depth understanding of chemistry and the life sciences, expertise in microfabrication and microfluidics, together with instrument design and development capabilities, Dolomite is enabling some of the world’s top providers in fields as diverse as environmental monitoring, drug discovery and forensic science to deliver microfluidic systems to the market place.