Design Automation in Microfluidics: An Experimentalist's Perspective

William H. Grover
University of California, Riverside, US


The field of microfluidic lab-on-a-chip devices is nearly 40 years old. In that time, microfluidic technologies have found several important applications, primarily in bioscience research and healthcare. However, the overall spread of microfluidic technologies has been remarkably slow, especially into important fields like agriculture and environmental monitoring. Why is this? In this talk I will give my answers to this question, based on perspectives gained during 20 years of research in experimental microfluidics. I will share my lab's approaches at automating the design of microfluidic chips, including using randomly-designed chips and databases of chip simulations to automatically find custom designs for given applications. I'll also explain why chip design is only half the problem in microfluidics, and why the other half of the problem—chip fabrication—also deserves our attention. Finally, I will argue that the biggest source of pain for creators of microfluidic chips isn't the chip itself, but the off-chip equipment needed to control the chip, and I will share recent work by my group and others aimed at reducing or eliminating off-chip equipment by integrating its control functions onto the chip itself using “pneumatic logic.”