What is Lab-on-a-chip?

A lab-on-a-chip is basically pretty much what it sounds like: it is a microchip that is able to perform one or more laboratory functions. Lab-on-a-chip devices are mainly used in the context of microfluidics, the study of very small quantities and volumes of any type of fluid. This type of device is a type of micro-electronic mechanical systems (MEMs). Micro-technology was first invented around 1954 and further developed in the decades that followed. The very first lab-on-a-chip system for chemical analysis was a gas chromatograph, invented, developed and built in 1979 by one S. C. Terry, affiliated with Stanford University.

Application of Lab-on-a-chip

Halfway through the 90s the development of micro-technologies and micro total analysis systems (also known as µTAS) was boosted by the general interest in genomics. Lab-on-a-chip technologies could be used for such diverse purposes as capillary electrophoresis and DNA microarrays. Lab-on-a-chip technologies are used in a wide array of sectors and fields, such as chemical analysis, medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring and cellomics, but also in the synthetic chemistry branch, such as the pharmaceutical industry. The development of lab-on-a-chip technologies seems to be going towards ever smaller chips, integrating nanotechnology with the laboratory function of the chips.

Advantages and disadvantages

Lab-on-a-chips do have, as does every technology, both its particular advantages and disadvantages. To name a few upsides: they are fast, they provide for better process control, low fabrication costs (which makes for a highly cost-effective technology – not unimportant). However, the fact that it is a rather new technology (and thus not yet fully developed) and that working on such a small scale can change the lab results, thus lowering the reliability of the outcome of experiments conducted through these technologies, could be considered disadvantages. Further developing these technologies will conceivably lead to more reliable lab results, solving both these downsides.

What is Lab-on-a-chip?