In the past several years, the pace of microfluidic progress has developed the field to now encompass a large variety of subtopics. One interesting subtopic is the field of droplet microfluidics where devices produce nanoliter (or even femto- or picoliter) volumes of one fluid (usually water) within a second carrier fluid (usually oil). All droplets, each with a single cell or molecules, are literally digitized and independent microreactors subject to the same biological assay. This way vast libraries of cells, bacteria or DNA can be screened on the single cell/analyte level as opposed to the more conventional bulk measurements on large populations.
Although droplet microfluidics provide great advantages over conventional continuous microfluidics, little progress has been made with applying it in practical applications. One of the main obstacles is that current techniques for droplet generation, isolation and analysis require components based on different physics, made on different platforms and packaged in different formats. Often several chips need to be connected for a fully working droplet assay. This clear gap between modular demonstration and a fully integrated and reliable device cannot be bridged with the current discrete droplet fluidics techniques.
One of imec’s goals is to development a platform where all operations occur on a single chip using active components. Operations such as fluid pumping, droplet generation, incubation and massive parallel sorting will all occur on a smart substrate so droplets can be monitored real time. The chip will combine actuation mechanisms for pumping fluid as well as integrated imagers for the monitoring of droplets. As a PhD on this topic, you will actively contribute to the development of such droplet microfluidic device. Besides basic functionalities such as droplet generation, the aim is to develop active components enabling a fully integrated microfluidic droplet platform. The project involves multiphysics simulations, measurement set-up development and hands on work in imec’s cleanroom environment to make the droplet-activating microfluidic chip.
You are a high motivated recent graduate holding a master’s degree in nano-engineering, physics, material science, mechanical engineering or related. You have an interest in biophysics, droplet mechanics, micro-fluidics, multiphysics simulation, electrical and optical characterization. You will be expected to working safely in a cleanroom environment and acquire processing and lab skills.
It is expected that you will present results regularly internally and externally. You are a team player and have good communication skills as you will work in a multidisciplinary and multicultural team spanning several imec departments, Life Sciences and Large-Area Electronics.
Type of work: 15% literature and reporting, 5% technology study, 40% experimental work, 40% characterization
Supervisor: Paul Heremans
Daily advisors: David Cheyns, John O’Callaghan
The reference code for this PhD position is SE1712-20. Mention this reference code on your application form.