If you just landed on Softbites for the first time, you probably have not had the chance to read our previous posts about microfluidics (like this one, or that one, and more). If this field of science is foreign to you, all you need to know is that it studies how fluids flow at really small scales (typically tens to hundreds of micrometers). For instance, you can quickly generate tiny droplets of a solution, turning each droplet into an individual “reactor”. Or you can create microenvironments with precisely controlled chemical concentrations to grow cells in different conditions.
From fire ants to spider silk, tooth enamel to lizard scales, and chemistry to computer science, there are lots of opportunities for soft-matter scientists to study biological questions!
What does a physicist study? If you ask this question to the general public, you’re likely to hear back either about the extremely small — quantum physics, particle physics — or the extremely large — general relativity or cosmology. Indeed, those are probably the most visible fields of physics, having been depicted in Hollywood movies and TV series, and being prominently featured on the cover of popular science books and magazines.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word mucus? For most people, it’s probably the last time they had a cold. Mucus is not usually something we think about unless there’s a problem. However, it is always there, working behind the scenes to make sure that our bodies function smoothly. Mucus lines the digestive, respiratory, and reproductive systems, covering a surface area of about 400 square meters- about 200 times more area than is covered by skin. In addition to providing lubrication and keeping the underlying tissue hydrated, mucus also plays a key role the human immune system. It serves as a selectively permeable membrane that protects against unwanted pathogens while also helping to support and control the body’s microbiome.
Microfluidics is the science and technology of manipulating small volumes of fluids in channels with dimensions as small as the size of human hair. You can think of a microfluidic system as a plumbing network composed of miniature pipes. Microfluidics has the potential to advance revolutionize biology, chemistry, and medical diagnostics by allowing many operations such as mixing of fluids, and synthesis of materials, as well as lab analyses to be miniaturized and integrated into a single device. Such a device is typically only a few cm² in size and is called a lab-on-chip platform.
Electric fields are often used in lab-on-chip systems to control droplet generation, sorting, merging, and mixing.
Today’s paper study the interaction between electric field and droplets
When we think about fluid flow, we generally think of motion in response to some external force: rivers run downhill because of gravity, while soda moves through a straw because of the pressure difference created by sucking on one end. Recently, however, scientists have become interested in a class of fluids that have the capacity to move all by themselves — the so-called “active fluids.” In this paper, Kun-Ta Wu and his co-workers explore how such a material can turn its stored chemical energy into useful work: cargo transport.