J Tanner Nevil is a microfluidics expert who occasionally likes to turn his laboratory into an art studio. Here, you can see that he's turned his microfluidic chip — often called a "lab on a chip" — into a painting made entirely by piping tiny amounts of colored fluid into canals that are about 20 microns in width. All the colored lines you see here are actually miniscule grooves full of liquid. Why did Nevil and his student Austin Day create this? They wanted a "microfluidic chip that looked cool." Check out some more micro-fluid art below.
Normally, a microfluidic chip looks like the one you're seeing here on the left. These chips allow researchers to combine tiny amounts of fluid — or microscopic organisms in fluid — in extremely precise ways. They're used in biomedical research a great deal, but perhaps the most well-known application of microfluidics is in inkjet printers (the head that spews your ink is a microfluidic device). What's cool about the image you're seeing below, of the Campanile clock tower on the UC Berkeley campus, is that it's made out of only 6 fluid channels, all of which end with a dead end. Nevill and Day worked on a technique to make it quite simple to push tiny amounts of fluid through these long channels, filling in the picture with different colored dyes.
This amazing image created by Austin inspired me to expand on the idea of 'microfluidic art.' Austin has moved into another lab, but I have another undergraduate, Albert Mach, who is helping me with this. Albert is developing a way to preserve this 'art' for extended time periods. It's common practice for microfluidicists to fill their devices with dye to take pictures. This works well, but only lasts for a few days because the dye dries up. Even if you somehow cap the inputs and outputs, the dye rarely lasts longer than a couple of days, especially in PDMS because it is permeable to air.
Looking forward to more! (Thanks, Terry!)
Microfluidic Art [via J Tanner Nevill]