Microfluidics fosters faster air monitoring

Lab on a chip may help monitor air quality

Photomicrograph shows portion of a 10-cm2 piece piece of glass that contains 7.5 m. of microchannels. Source: National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

A tiny microfluidics-based module may lead to small-scale portable systems for in-situ analysis and recording of air quality, hope researchers at the U.K.’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Leeds, U.K.

Such systems could dramatically speed up responses to adverse changes in air quality, they add.

The microfluidics module would serve as a lab on a chip, handling complex chemical management and analysis while interfacing with electronics and optical detection systems — providing a cheaper and much faster alternative to the current approach of collecting samples and then sending them to a laboratory for analysis by gas chromatography, say the researchers.

A team headed by Prof. Alastair Lewis is now undertaking initial feasibility studies. It’s collaborating on the development with Dolomite Centre Ltd., Royston, U.K., a company that specializes in designing and manufacturing microfluidic devices and instruments.

“This is a great application of our technology,” says Gillian Davis, regional manager for Dolomite. “This is what microfluidics does best. It enables smaller yet more powerful systems to be developed. Systems that may have been laboratory-based can become more portable or even hand-held and, at the same time, can have increased accuracy and repeatability.”

For the project, Dolomite has created a microfluidics device that contains more than 7.5 meters of micro-channels running through a 10-cm2 piece of glass. This represents one of the largest devices and the longest channels yet developed by the company.

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