PhD Defence Alexander Hsiaoyen McMillan

PhD Defence Alexander Hsiaoyen McMillan

Since its emergence, microfluidics has proven to be a powerful tool in chemistry and the life sciences. Microfluidic devices, consisting of networks of micron-scale flow channels, leverage high surface-area-to-volume ratios and precision fluid control to provide advantages over conventional methods in chemistry and biology. In chemistry, reactions with greater speed, selectivity, and safety can be achieved thanks to fast mixing and efficient heat transfer. In biology, greater control over mechanical and biochemical microenvironments allow cell culture studies with greater relevance to living organisms.

The progression of microfluidics over the past three decades, however, has not lived up to the high expectations that were held at its beginnings. While numerous factors can be identified as bottlenecks in the continued development of microfluidics, one critical element is the need for new microfluidic materials. Microfluidic devices, or “chips,” can be fabricated from a variety of different materials, such as silicon, glass, and polymers, with each one possessing its intrinsic advantages and drawbacks. A material must possess suitable material properties for the microfluidic application at hand, but one must also evaluate its fabrication and cost as factors key to its accessibility and transferability across manufacturing scales. The most common microfluidic material, an elastomer called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), possesses numerous drawbacks in its material properties that make it unideal for many biology applications and unusable for many chemistry applications. Moreover, the techniques used for its fabrication are low-throughput, limiting the possibility of large-scale implementation (i.e., a transfer from academic research to industry). A group of materials called soft thermoplastic elastomers (sTPE) have been recently developed for microfluidics, with preliminary reports in literature demonstrating their favorable material properties and transferable fabrication methodologies. This PhD, conducted between academia and industry, focuses on two distinct sTPE materials, Flexdym™ and Fluoroflex, and their use for cell culture and flow chemistry applications, respectively. It aims to evaluate the properties of these novel sTPE materials and capitalize on them by providing sTPE device demonstrations that give scope for broader and more widespread microfluidic applications in these fields.

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