Melted fibers make nano channels

January 14/21, 2004

Tiny channels designed to control the flow of minuscule amounts of fluids are a major component of Labs-on-a-chip, which promise to enable inexpensive, hand-held devices for chemical and biological testing.

Researchers from Cornell University have devised a simple, inexpensive way to construct fluidic channels whose corners are elliptical rather than sharp, which permits fluid to flow more freely.

To make the channels, the researchers used a spinning technique to deposit parallel, evenly-spaced polymer fibers onto the surface of a silicon, silicon dioxide or glass chip. They then added a layer of liquid glass, a chemical that hardens to a transparent substance when heated. The fibers are as small as 100 nanometers in diameter, or one-tenth the girth of an E. coli bacterium.

The researchers used photolithography -- a process that uses chemicals and light to pattern materials -- to add reservoirs to the chip, then etched holes at each end using a hot beam of plasma. The more tedious work -- making many tiny channels -- was done simply by heating the surface to 350 degrees Celsius to decompose the fibers, leaving channels with elliptical cross-sections.

The channels could be used to separate, count and analyze biological molecules like DNA, according to the researchers.

The channels could see limited use in commercial devices in two to five years, and more widespread use in five to ten years, according to the researchers. The work appeared in the December 8, 2003 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

Page One

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