The trend to miniaturized sample analysis has been developing slowly for the past 20 years or so. Lab on a chip has been the Holy Grail for Life Sciences for many years and is just now reaching its stride as a major tool for improving sample throughput and achieving the acceleration of research results in genetic testing, drug testing, diagnostics etc. Originally sample miniaturization was due to either lack of sample quantity (samples from babies, forensics) but today the need is evolving more towards samples containing more information (genetics, proteomics).
Many detectors (such as Mass Spectrometry) work better with small sample amounts and in the past this has been a challenge to sufficiently and predictable split the sample so as not to overwhelm the detector.
Today, state of the art sample miniaturization can result in picoliter-volume droplets produced at a rate of millions per hour. Each droplet becomes the functional equivalent of an individual test tube containing a single molecule, reaction, or cell. The droplets are then processed on a disposable chip that has no moving parts or valves. An added advantage is that samples have minimal contact with either walls or air thereby reducing the possibility of contamination.
Clearly there are both materials and fluid delivery challenges to overcome to produce miniaturized samples that are uncontaminated, homogeneous with accurate and precise droplet sizes. Shown in the screen capture to the right is the generation of miniature sample droplets in a fluid stream.
IDEX Health & Science