Jessica Vermeer
9 December 2019

A lab-on-a-chip is a portable laboratory the size of a credit card. The narrow channels of such a lab can easily get clogged. Eindhoven University of Technology PhD candidate Shuaizhong Zhang has found a way to solve this problem using magnetically driven miniscule vibrating hairs.

The inner wall of a human windpipe is covered with so-called cilia, small vibrating hairs that transport dirt particles up through the throat. These hairs inspired Zhang of TUE’s Microsystems group to develop an artificial variant that has applications in microfluidics. Applying artificial vibrating hairs in microchannels can help actively transport fluids through the channels. In addition, the movement would allow liquids to mix better and prevent clogging.

BvOF_Shuaizhong_Zhang
Credit: Bart van Overbeeke

Actuating vibrating hairs by a magnetic field had so far only been shown in computer simulations. Zhang brings this method to practice. Advantages of magnetic vibrating hairs are the small size, speed and biocompatibility.

Results show effective removal of unwanted material and the possibility to move particles very precisely in a certain direction. Mixing fluids proves to be an important potential implementation. Future research will focus on moving cilia in a pattern resembling traveling waves.