Team:BostonU HW/HP/Gold Integrated


Gold Human Practices
Integrated Human


Integrating Our Microfluidics Knowledge

As our work on MARS progressed, many of the interactions we engaged in over the Summer had a direct impact on the project. Specific areas that were developed and modified as a result of our synthetic biologist and industry interactions are influencing the structure and content of our MARS chip archive, increasing accessibility to researchers through Microfluidics 101, and building the fluid functionality checklist. Through integrating the feedback, comments and advice received from various sources, we were able to significantly improve and refine MARS as a whole.

Biological Design Center and iGEM Outreach

In order to determine what would make microfluidics more practical and accessible for synthetic biologists we reached out to the Biological Design Center at Boston University. The BDC promotes collaboration between scientists in order to create new biological innovations. We asked the BDC researchers what types of biological protocols are performed day-to-day in the lab. Based on their feedback we were able to identify eight common protocols performed by synthetic biologists:

These eight common protocols informed both the layout of our MARS Repository into Isolation, Modification, and Quantification, as well as the chips within it. Of our nine MARS chips, eight were designed to each perform one of these synbio protocols.

We also reached out to the iGEM community via a poll. The purpose of this poll was to gauge how much the iGEM community knows about microfluidics, what procedures they perform every day in the lab, and what would get them interested in microfluidics. In total, we received 42 responses from teams all across the world. The results from this poll are summarized below.

These results validated our educational components of MARS. The introduction to microfluidics and video tutorials serve to educate the iGEM and greater synbio community about what microfluidics are and how to use them. Furthermore, this poll validated our choice of nine synthetic biology protocols to move onto microfluidic devices housed in the MARS archive.


During the course of the Fall semester the team also had to opportunity to tour Phenomyx, a microfluidics startup located at LabCentral in Boston. The tour was led by Salil Desai, their founder and Chief Technology Officer, who took us through their fabrication and testing space. During the course of the tour we were able to learn from his industry experience in microfluidic devices.

While discussing our fluid functionality checklist we were able to discuss our quantitative and qualitative metrics in some detail. A key point of the discussion was the importance of utilizing general metrics, instead of protocol or design specific metrics, when grading a chip. This way we can ensure that our system can be applied to chips at large without being specific to individual designs. This advice has been integral as we ensured that our finalized protocol used metric we were able to apply to any device design. The possibility of integrating our checklist into a software system was also pitched as a possible progression of MARS. Although we were unable to meet this goal for 2017, it provides an exciting direction for future iGEM teams to build on our project.

Black Hole Lab

Over the summer we were in contact with Black Hole Lab who manufacture plug and play microfluidics for researchers. As we were in the beginning stages of fabrication, we had many questions for them regarding manufacturing processes and what standards they recommended in order to ensure quality control. Although they were unable to provide us with “industry standards” to utilize, Black Hole Lab advised us to build our checklist around our fabrication method. Many of the suggestions they made such as:
  • Checking the milled dimensions of primitives and channels
  • Testing the maximum pressure chips can withstand
  • Checking if the chip leaks or the seal breaks
were integrated into our preliminary checklists. In fact, testing for a channel’s maximum pressure and checking for seal leaks became two of the key quantitative and qualitative pillars in our final Fluid Functionality Checklist. To see how these were integrated into our Fluid Functionality Checklist, please click here:

Blacktrace - Dolomite

Blacktrace is a company involved with designing and manufacturing modular microfluidics for research and industry. Our conversation with them revolved around how they approached quality control, as well as what types of problems they encountered when handing off microfluidics to consumers.

During our conversation regarding educational materials provided to first time users, we were able to ask what key areas they focused on the most. When handing their products over to consumers, Blacktrace noted that they spent the most time covering thorough cleaning of microfluidic devices. When receiving a chip for the first time, many users underestimated the impact a tiny blockage or strand of hair can have. Although we cannot offer a two-day training seminar for researchers using our chips, this feedback led to us including the “Cleaning” tutorial video and protocol in Microfluidics 101. To see these protocols, please click here.

We were also able to discuss their quality control motto which is to avoid testing every chip and instead ensure their fabrication process is airtight. Although this did not feed into our Fluid Functionality checklist directly, it inspired us to broaden the MARS archive through tutorial and how-to videos. Through this we will be able to streamline and simplify our workflow in order to reduce the number of errors future users experience.