Microfluidics: the new home chemistry kit?

June 28, 2010

Image credit: Cheng Wei T. Yang, Eric Ouellet and Eric T. Lagally


What’s the difference between work and play when it comes to science? Not much, sometimes. Linda Stone, upon interviewing Nobel Laureates in 2009 found:


When these men talked about their work in the lab today and their childhood play patterns, it was the same conversation.  They played passionately as children and the emergent questions and interests they had as children were still central in their work, albeit more evolved.


Eric Lagally’s group at the University of British Columbia are hoping microfluidics might inspire kids at a young age, just as home chemistry sets used to decades ago. In the May 2010 issue of Analytical Chemistry, they report on an outreach project to teach kids principles of microfluidics via devices made of Jell-O.  While these projects are proposed as school assignments, there’s no reason why a child couldn’t keep on playing with the concepts at home.


The article, which is freely available, contains detailed lesson plans and links back to the lab’s outreach website, with even more resources for educators.  Three projects are described: observing pressure-driven flow, learning about dimensionless parameters by observing laminar flow, and testing pH inside a microfluidic channel.  These can be adapted to different student levels from elementary through high school. For an advanced student, the next step could be to design a new experiment — indeed, the protocols described were initially developed by high school students, Jake Abbot and Cameron Lawson, working with the Lagally group. I’d love to see what new experiments the kids might come up with!

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