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Microfluidics refers to the behaviour, precise control, and manipulation of fluids that are geometrically constrained to a small scale (typically sub-millimeter) at which capillary penetration governs mass transport. It is a multidisciplinary field that involves engineering, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. It has practical applications in the design of systems that process low volumes of fluids to achieve multiplexing, automation, and high-throughput screening. Microfluidics emerged in the beginning of the 1980s and is used in the development of inkjet printheads, DNA chips, lab-on-a-chip technology, micro-propulsion, and micro-thermal technologies.
Typically, micro means one of the following features:
- Small volumes (μL, nL, pL, fL)
- Small size
- Low energy consumption
- Microdomain effects
Typically microfluidic systems transport, mix, separate, or otherwise process fluids. Various applications rely on passive fluid control using capillary forces, in the form of capillary flow modifying elements, akin to flow resistors and flow accelerators. In some applications, external actuation means are additionally used for a directed transport of the media. Examples are rotary drives applying centrifugal forces for the fluid transport on the passive chips.
Active microfluidics refers to the defined manipulation of the working fluid by active (micro) components such as micropumps or microvalves. Micropumps supply fluids in a continuous manner or are used for dosing. Microvalves determine the flow direction or the mode of movement of pumped liquids. Often, processes normally carried out in a lab are miniaturised on a single chip, which enhances efficiency and mobility, and reduces sample and reagent volumes.