Cheap Microfluidic Device Made From Paper and Tape

Harvard scientists hope to reduce the cost of medical tests

2 min read

10 December 2008—Harvard researchers have made a device from just paper and double-sided sticky tape that could be used to test for diseases at just a fraction of the cost of today’s diagnostic devices. George Whitesides, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and his colleagues built the three-dimensional microfluidic device using photolithography techniques similar to those used in the semiconductor industry. The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

”It’s very creative and also potentially very useful,” says Sam Sia, assistant professor of molecular and microscale bioengineering at Columbia University. ”It has use for diagnostics in resource-poor settings.”

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Illustration showing an astronaut performing mechanical repairs to a satellite uses two extra mechanical arms that project from a backpack.

Extra limbs, controlled by wearable electrode patches that read and interpret neural signals from the user, could have innumerable uses, such as assisting on spacewalk missions to repair satellites.

Chris Philpot

What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands—all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role. Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands. Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that would let you handle multiple objects simultaneously, like Spiderman’s Dr. Octopus. Or contemplate the out-there music a composer could write for a pianist who has 12 fingers to spread across the keyboard.

Such scenarios may seem like science fiction, but recent progress in robotics and neuroscience makes extra robotic limbs conceivable with today’s technology. Our research groups at Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg, in Germany, together with partners in the European project NIMA, are now working to figure out whether such augmentation can be realized in practice to extend human abilities. The main questions we’re tackling involve both neuroscience and neurotechnology: Is the human brain capable of controlling additional body parts as effectively as it controls biological parts? And if so, what neural signals can be used for this control?

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