Team:BostonU HW/HP/Silver


Silver Human Practices
Silver Human


Understanding Microfluidics

The key goal of MARS is to make microfluidics as accessible and understandable as possible to the synbio community. From our poll results it was obvious that most people had not heard of microfluidics before or only had a limited understanding of their application in a lab. This highlighted the need for more education on our hardware and created the perfect basis for our human practices and public outreach.

We worked together with STEM Pathways at Boston University in order to engage and inspire High school girls to pursue careers or higher education in STEM fields. This event was particularly well suited to our project as our activity would be happening in conjunction with many others related to synthetic biology. This helped prep the students as they received a good understanding of synthetic biology prior to arriving at our microfluidics station.

Community Engagement

Summer Pathways

On July 12th 2017 the BostonU Hardware team was able to participate in Summer Pathways, an event organized by STEM Pathways. This event aims to expose and engage high school girls in synthetic biology. Our activity aimed at giving the students a basic explanation of microfluidics and then push them to test this understanding through designing their own synbio chip using cardboard primitives.

The event opened with a video explaining the basics of synthetic biology and how it impacts the world we live in. Following this, the girls broke off into smaller groups and rotated between the different activities planned for the day.

Our activity began with a discussion of what microfluidics are and how our work can aid research in synthetic biology. Although we were limited to ten minutes, the student’s curiosity pushed us to explain microfluidics in way that was simple but did not lose the potential and universal applicability of the hardware.
Next, we handed out two synbio protocols, cardboard primitives and a primitive key. The students immediately began working on translating protocols to microfluidic chips and created a variety of creative designs. While the students worked, we engaged with each group individually answering questions, discussing designs and challenging them to include features such as shared inputs or valves geometries.

During this time, we were also able to ask the students what opinions or thoughts they had regarding microfluidics and their applications in the wider world. Many students were intrigued by the possibility of automating basic experiments they performed in class as well as applications in medical diagnostics, chemistry and pharmaceuticals. Some students were curious about our manufacturing process and how we were able to prototype and fabricate chips at a fast rate. After hearing our breakdown of the process and the relative prices of our equipment, some girls were excited about the possibility of setting up a chip manufacturing space in their high school. The student’s excitement about our hardware and its various potential applications illustrated to us how our project can go on to impact synthetic biologists in the future.

Industry Connections

While working on MARS we wanted to connect with individuals in industry to understand how they approached microfluidic fabrications and what input they had for us regarding a DIY microfluidics setup. We were also curious to see what potential impacts our work could have on the existing field.


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.

Some key points of the tour were suggestions regarding microfluidic fabrication, for example the extra step of filtering PDMS to minimize dust and other obstructions when setting it. Another interesting topic discussed was utilizing general metrics, instead of protocol specific metrics, when grading a chip using our fluid functionality checklist. This way we can ensure that our system can be applied to chips at large without being specific to individual designs. Besides discussing chip fabrication, we were able to engage in a discussion regarding the potential to use software systems to view and analyze microfluidic functionality remotely. Although this goal is out of reach at present, it provides an exciting new challenge to the next generation of microfluidic researchers.


Over the summer we were able to connect with the team at Aline, a rapid prototyping and microfluidics engineering firm located in California. Over a conference call we pitched our initial project description and goals to their team, and were able to receive feedback on areas such as metering, primitive design and our repository design. We were also able to learn more about their microfluidics systems, for example their take on volume dispensing on a chip. Although we were not able to integrate their system into our existing workflow, it offered an alternative method of metering using external systems. During the call the possibility of integrating multiple flow layers into our chips was discussed in detail. While we are not equipped to create multi-layer chips at this time, we are excited to explore this area in microfluidics further in the near future.


During the last weeks of summer, we had the opportunity to tour the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation located on BU’s campus. Through this tour we were able to better understand how they approached designing and implementing microfluidic technology for research purposes, and how this translated to mass manufacturing. We were able to see chips housed on-site such as a rapid diagnostics chip for septicemia and a PCR chip being designed for mass scale manufacturing.

Over the course of the tour we were able to discuss their goal of moving research into mass manufacturing and industry, as well as what types of barriers need to be overcome in order to do so. Many of the points they covered, such as lack of documentation, high levels of specialization and lack of standardized manufacturing, were all barriers we have been looking to overcome. Although we were interested in solving similar issues, our workflow would not necessarily impact the microfluidic fabrication industry directly. Our workflow would have an impact, however, through allowing synthetic biologists to:
  • Rapidly replicate and prototype chips designs
  • Easily, quickly and cheaply produce iterations without reaching out to industry manufacturing
  • Keep standardized design files and documentation to pass on to companies for mass manufacturing

Blacktrace - Dolomite

Blacktrace are 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.
This led to an in depth conversation regarding the types of educational materials they have designed for first time microfluidics users. If a complex microfluidics setup is being installed in a lab, Blacktrace typically hosts a two-day training seminar covering the basics of using and maintaining the hardware. For smaller scale chips and devices, they include detailed information in the form of manuals and web support.
Throughout the conversation, Blacktrace stressed the importance of easy to understand educational materials and gave a few suggestions regarding what we should include in our own project. What we were able to take away from this outreach was the relevance of our first MARS branch, Microfluidics 101. Providing this easy to access information for anyone interested in microfluidics would be positively impacting the synthetic biology community but also the scientific community at large. Especially when we have coupled it to our rapid prototyping and manufacturing methods.

Black Hole Lab

Over the summer we were also in contact with Black Hole Lab who manufacture plug and play microfluidics for researchers. As we were in the beginning stages of fabrication, our questions for them were mainly in regards to manufacturing chips and what standards they recommended in order to ensure quality control. What we were able to learn is that at the moment there are no specific “industry standard” when working in microfluidics. Quality control guidelines can be built around manufacturing methods and depend on quantifiable parameters. Through building an evaluation system for our workflow, we would be able to introduce a microfluidics “standard” for research purposes. This impacts the existing field through allowing researchers to better document, evaluate and standardize their devices.