Microfluidic analysis systems are emerging as mainstream tools in biology, biochemistry and medicine. Their sub-nanoliter volumes reduce required sample sizes, while their small feature sizes allow multiple analyses to be integrated into a single device, reducing analysis times. This pattern of increasing device densities and falling per-unit cost mirrors the historical trend in CMOS technology and offers the promise of full-function analysis systems, often termed lab-on-chip (LOC). Just as solid-state electronics lead to the automation of computation, the goal has been to produce automated analysis systems and real-time analysis in the field.
Realization of this promise, however, will require efficient design methods. Our group is working an applying routing and placement algorithms developed for CMOS chips to the design of microfluidic LOCs. We are also interested in applying software abstraction layers to the design problem to allow system designers to concentrate on their end application. In addition, we hope to ease the so-called “world-to-chip” interface problem by enabling better control of the LOC itself. We have developed microfluidic valves that allow us to implement fully static logic in the LOC thus distributing control and reducing the number of required inputs. We are currently investigating the application of this approach to large microfluidic LOC.