Breaking the barriers to manufacture thermoplastic microfluidics!

themoplastic microfluidics figure

Thermoplastics, such as Cyclin Olefin Copolymer, are used in commercial applications of microfluidics because they are biocompatible, have good material properties such as optical clarity, low fluorescence, high toughness and are cheap to mass produce. However, there are challenges for academic labs to make thermoplastic microfluidics devices. Fabricating molds for thermoplastics is expensive and other process steps, such as sealing the chip and interfacing the chip to the lab are difficult. In a recent publication, the Fraden lab described an inexpensive method for rapid prototyping of thermoplastic microfluidics suitable for academic labs for applications such as x-ray diffraction of protein crystals produced on the same chip in which they were crystallized, or for labs seeking to manufacture a thermoplastic prototype of a microfluidic device in order to demonstrate the potential for mass production. This process will facilitate the transfer of University developed microfluidics to commercialization.

Rapid prototyping of cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) microfluidic devices. S. Ali Aghvami, Achini Opathalage, Z.K. Zhang, Markus Ludwig, Michael Heymann, Michael Norton, Niya Wilkins, Seth Fraden. Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical. Volume 247, August 2017, Pages 940-949.


MRSEC offers 2 one-week courses in Summer 2017

Brandeis’ MRSEC is offering two one-week courses in June 2017. “Introduction to Microfluidics Technology” and “Biomaterials: Kinesin Production for Beginners” are both hands-on laboratory courses with no prerequisites.

  • Introduction to Microfluidics Technology
    Date: June 19-23, 2017
    This course is intended for graduate students, post docs, faculty, and industrial scientists/engineers interested in utilizing microfluidic technology in their work, both in the physical and life sciences
  • Biomaterials: Kinesin Production for Beginners
    Date: June 26-30, 2017
    This course is intended for graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and industrial scientists/engineers interested in laboratory-scale expression and purification of kinesins, the biomolecular motors that power Brandeis MRSEC’s highly regarded active liquid crystals. The course is suitable for non-biologists who do not have access to any major specialized equipment at their home institution, since the goal of the course is to make protein production accessible to a wider variety of labs.

Register early (by March 1) for a $50 discount. Regular registration for both courses closes March 31, 2017.

Both courses are sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Bioinspired Soft Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at Brandeis.

Introduction to Microfluidics Technology – June 13-17, 2016

2016 MRSEC Summer Course Announcement

Registration for our annual, one-week summer course, “Introduction to Microfluidics Technology” at Brandeis University, near Boston, MA, is now open. The application deadline is March 31, 2016.

Introduction to Microfluidics Technology is a hands-on laboratory course sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Bioinspired Soft Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at Brandeis. It will be offered during the week of June 13 ‐ 17, 2016. The course is intended for graduate students, post docs, faculty, and industrial scientists/engineers interested in utilizing microfluidic technology in their work, both in the physical and life sciences. The course does not assume any specific prerequisites.

“Introduction to Microfluidics Technology” (June 13 – 17, 2016)
will be taught by Dr. Nathan Tompkins.

The $750 fee covers course tuition, housing in double-occupancy rooms, and breakfast/lunch/coffee from Monday through Friday. Single rooms are not available. Local students who do not need housing will pay a non-resident fee of $500 (cash and check only please).

More information is available.

How does a hard-wired simple circuit generate multiple behaviors?

In a paper appearing in last week’s issue of Neuron, members of the Sengupta Lab and their collaborators from the Bargmann Lab describe how a fixed neural circuit produces multiple behaviors in a context-dependent manner.  The study was led by former Brandeis post-doctoral fellow Kyuhyung Kim in the Sengupta Lab (currently Assistant Professor at DGIST, Korea) and Rockefeller student Heeun Jang in the Bargmann Lab. Also involved in the study were current Brandeis MCB students Scott Neal and Danna Zeiger, and Dongshin Kim, the head of the Brandeis Microfluidics Facility.

For this study the researchers used the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The nervous system of C. elegans consists of only 302 neurons (in the adult hermaphrodite) whose anatomical connectivities are well-mapped. Despite its relatively small nervous system, C. elegans exhibits a wide range of behaviors in response to environmental stimuli. For instance, C. elegans exhibits varied responses to pheromones – small chemical substances used for intra-specific communication. Some pheromones are repulsive to adult hermaphrodite C. elegans but neutral to male C. elegans. However, reducing the function of the neuropeptide Y-like receptor NPR-1 results in hermaphrodites now exhibiting neutral pheromone responses and males becoming strongly attracted. The researchers asked how the sex and neuromodulatory state of the animal allows it to interpret the pheromone stimulus differently to generate distinct behavioral responses.

To answer this question, the researchers used behavioral assays, genetic manipulations of neuronal output, and in vivo measurements of pheromone-induced neuronal activity (using genetically encoded calcium sensors and customized microfluidics devices designed by the Brandeis Microfluidics Facility). They found that flexible output of a neuronal ‘hub-and-spoke’ circuit motif was responsible for generating these distinct pheromone responses under different conditions.

In this circuit, pheromone-sensing neurons ASK and ADL are connected to the central RMG motor/interneuron by gap junctions (see Figure). Jang et al. showed that in hermaphrodites with high levels of NPR-1 activity, the ADL sensory neurons respond strongly to a specific pheromone component and drive avoidance behavior via their chemical synapses to command interneurons for locomotion. However, sexual dimorphism in the circuit results in males having reduced ADL pheromone responses.  Moreover, Jang et al. showed that ADL synaptic output in males is further decreased via RMG and ASK-mediated antagonism (see Figure). As a result, males are indifferent to this pheromone.

The next issue the authors addressed is the role of NPR-1 activity in regulating pheromone responses. The Bargmann Lab had previously shown that high NPR-1 activity inhibits RMG, and under these conditions, pheromone responses of the ASK sensory neurons are low. Conversely, when NPR-1 activity is reduced or absent, ASK pheromone responses are enhanced. Jang et al. found that in the absence of NPR-1 activity, ADL chemical synaptic output in response to pheromones is antagonized by the RMG-ASK gap junction circuit. In other words, avoidance mediated by ADL chemical synaptic output is balanced by attraction mediated by the RMG-ASK gap junction circuit, resulting in hermaphrodites being neither attracted to nor avoiding this pheromone. In males with reduced NPR-1 activity the same effects are observed, however, since the ADL pheromone response is already lower in males, the RMG-ASK attraction-mediating arm “wins” resulting in attraction to pheromones.  The authors refer to these as overlapping ‘push-pull’ circuits in analogy with electronic circuits.

These results begin to explain how a small fixed circuit can generate a remarkable range of behaviors via alteration of sensory response properties as well as choice of specific synaptic output pathway as a function of neuromodulatory state and sex. The general theme of a circuit functioning differently under different neuromodulatory conditions has been extensively studied in the Marder Lab in the crustacean nervous system, and is an important principle to be kept in mind when interpreting functionality from structurally described connectomes.

Jang H(*), Kim K(*), Neal SJ, Macosko E, Kim D, Butcher RA, Zeiger DM, Bargmann CI, Sengupta P. Neuromodulatory State and Sex Specify Alternative Behaviors through Antagonistic Synaptic Pathways in C. elegans. Neuron. 2012;75(4):585-92.

MRSEC Summer Courses 2012

The Brandeis Materials Research Science and Engineering Center announces two new one week summer 2012 courses:

  • Introduction to Microfluidics Technology (June 18-22, 2012)
  • Modern Optical Microscopy  (June 25-29, 2012)

Introduction to Microfluidics Technology will be taught by the director of the Brandeis Microfluidics Center. The course is based on strategies employed when teaching new users of the facility how to utilize microfluidic technology in research work.

Modern Optical Microscopy will be taught by Professor Zvonimir Dogic of the Physics department at Brandeis. It is based on a very successful one semester graduate course offered at Brandeis on the same topic. (see a review of this course from last year).

See the MRSEC website for application materials.

MRSEC summer course in Microfluidics (June 27- July 1, 2011)

Microfluidics is a recently introduced field of research area in which scientists study the behavior, precise control, and manipulation of fluids that are geometrically constrained to a small, typically sub-millimeter scale, where the dominant phenomena include diffusion, laminar flow, surface tension, and evaporation.  By incorporating these new tools, researchers are able to create novel functions and methods. Emerging application areas for this technology include micro total analysis system (μTAS), tissue engineering, and drug screening. One of the major benefits of this technology is its ability to make an economical device that requires very small sample and small quantities of expensive reagent.  It may also be possible to integrate more components in a device at higher resolution with this technology.

The Brandeis Materials Science Research and Enginering Center offers a one-week summer course from June 27 – July 1, 2011, “Introduction to Microfludics Technology“. The course will introduce students to the microfabrication technologies available to build microfluidic devices. This course has been created in response to the great interest from industry, government and academia in the field of microfluidics. We will build several microfluidic devices to understand the microscale phenomena and their applications. Throughout the course, we will place an emphasis on hands-on experimentation with microfluidic systems where laminar flow, surface tension, and molecular diffusion dominate.

Students having fun in the cleanroom

The instructor, Dr. Dongshin Kim, received his Ph.D. (2006) degree in Mechanical Engineering, MS degrees in both Biomedical (2004) and Mechanical (2001) Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After his Ph.D. program, Dr. Kim received biological training on tissue engineering in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois as a postdoctoral associate in 2006. In January of 2009, Dr. Kim joined the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at Brandeis University. Since then, Dr. Kim has been collaborating with many faculty members and scientists in the field of life science to implement the microfluidics technology into their researches.

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