/Active microfluidic platform for automated sample preparation

Active microfluidic platform for automated sample preparation

PhD - Leuven | More than two weeks ago

Leverage advanced MEMS/NEMS technologies at imec to create active microfluidic circuitries

Microfluidics is a rapidly evolving technology that enables precise manipulation of small fluid quantities, from micro- down to picoliter. Although many functional elements have been successfully miniaturized and integrated in microfluidic chips, including electrical and optical sensors, the fluidic control still often relies on using external valves and pumps. These peripheral instruments are rather bulky and expensive, result in large dead volumes during operation, and -most importantly- cannot be scaled to large numbers. Hence, there is a strong need for more integrated solutions to meet the increasing demand for more complex workflows that require multiplexing and parallelization. In particular, the integration of microvalves is an utmost demand to enable integrated microfluidics.


Today, PDMS-based pneumatic microvalves are most commonly used. The fabrication method involves soft lithography, which is widely adopted in the academic field, but is difficult to produce at an industrial scale due to contamination issues, swelling, surface fouling or unstable surface properties. Other microvalves based on classical MEMS technology exist, but typically require large dimensions, need high actuation forces, as well as have limited valve displacements prone to clogging. This PhD topic will explore novel microvalve concepts by leveraging advanced MEMS/NEMS technologies compatible with state-of-the-art manufacturing processes. The aim of this PhD is to build an integrated microfluidic platform initially to combine nucleic acid extraction and amplification. Such a platform would have applications not only in the field of next-gen DNA-sequencing, but also in sample preparation of single-cells, exosomes, and cell-free DNA. With this platform, we aim at providing a more automated, miniaturized and reliable sample preparation solution than the complex and highly manual sample handling currently being used in labs.


The primary efforts of this PhD project will be the simulation, design and testing of microvalves. Then you will create an active microfluidic platform with multiple microvalves. Finally, you will demonstrate the sample preparation application. The topic will be supervised and supported by a team of physicists, engineers, and biologists across three departments at imec.


Required background: Electrical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering


Type of work: 50% design and simulation; 50% characterization and experimental validation

Supervisor: Liesbet Lagae

Daily advisor: Lei Zhang, Veronique Rochus

The reference code for this position is 2022-091. Mention this reference code on your application form.