Michael Vahey wins Senturia Prize for microfluidic / isodielectric cell screening method

April 27, 2010

I’m happy to announce that Michael Vahey, a former colleague from the Voldman lab at MIT, has won this year’s Senturia Prize for his Ph.D. thesis work on a novel microfluidic technique for separating and characterizing cells according to their electrical properties. This method offers a new tool for biologists looking to screen millions of cells quickly.  Mike will be speaking on 5/13 about his work (see details below).  Congrats, Mike!


Image Credit: Michael Vahey and Joel Voldman


Who: Michael Vahey

What: Electrokinetics and Genetics: Using Microfluidic Technology to Screen for Electrical Phenotypes in the Yeast Deletion Library

When: Thursday, May 13, 2010 — 3:00 PM (reception to follow)

Where: MIT Building 36, Room 428 (RLE Conference Room), Cambridge, MA


Understanding biological systems on a genome-wide scale requires technologies capable of extracting high-content information from tens of millions of cells in a short amount of time. This demand presents exciting new opportunities for microfluidic devices specializing in the rapid and precise manipulation and characterization of cells. In this presentation, I will describe my efforts to capitalize on this opportunity through the development of a new microfluidic method for separating and characterizing cells based upon differences in their electrical properties. Because a cell’s electrical conductivity and permittivity encode subtle information related to morphology, structure, and composition, this new approach to phenotypic profiling can significantly increase the information content of a genetic screen relative to traditional fitness-based approaches. To demonstrate our method, we have undertaken the first genome-wide mapping of genotype to electrical phenotype in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Towards this end, my work has focused on: (1) the development of a novel equilibrium gradient separation method, called isodielectric separation (IDS); (2) the development of physical theories describing how interactions between particles effect microscale separations; and (3) the application of IDS to a screen for electrical phenotypes across yeast strains exhibiting ~5000 different systematic gene deletions. These efforts have resulted in new physical theories describing the performance of microfluidic separations at high particle concentrations, as well as the first ever “electrogenomic profile” – a genome-wide analysis of how electrical properties vary across the yeast deletion library.


For more:

  • Vahey MD, Voldman J. “High-Throughput Cell and Particle Characterization Using Isodielectric Separation”  Anal Chem. 2009 Apr 1;81(7):2446-55. 

  • Vahey, M. D. & Voldman, J., “High-throughput cell and particle characterization using iso-dielectric separation,” Micro Total Analysis Systems ’08 1187-89, 2008. 

  • Vahey, M. D. & Voldman, J., “Sorting concentrated suspensions: particle interactions, emergent behavior, and implications for microfluidic separations,” Micro Total Analysis Systems ’08 1474-76, 2008.










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