Our overall mission is to study practically important intersections of the thermal sciences with biomedicine and biotechnology using experimental and numerical methods. The primary focus is on fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and phase change thermodynamics as related with cellular biology. Specific applications include improved cryopreservation of cells, continuous size-based microparticle and cell separations, & lab-on-chip devices for control of single cells.
The field of biological microelectromechanical systems (BioMEMS) refers to the application of micro-scale engineering techniques to the quantitative study and manipulation of biological matter. Microfluidics, a closely related field, deals with the behavior, precise control and manipulation of fluids that are geometrically confined to sub-millimeter scales. Much of what we do falls under these two umbrellas, and more specifically under the sub-fields of inertial and drop-based microfluidics. However, as a thermal-fluid sciences research group, we are particularly interested in energy and its transformations on the scale of single cells, and how these energetic processes may be applied to solve real problems in biomedicine and biotechnology. On this scale, Joules are gigantic, so a different unit of measure is desired. Enter the erg (100 nJ), roughly the cooling required to bring a cell from body temperature to 0℃. For a single cell (about one picoliter in volume), most energy interactions are far below this level. For example, the ATP in a cell represents an energy store measured in the milli-ergs.
Our lab focuses on energetic BioMEMS: manipulating the thermal-fluid environment of single cells with energy transformations of milli-ergs to 100’s of ergs per cell. Whether it is the interfacial energy of a surfactant-stabilized aqueous microdrop (about one milli-erg), the electrical potential energy dissipation in a single cell during electroporation (about ten milli-ergs), the flow energy dissipated during inertial cell ordering (about 100 milli-ergs for each cell and its surrounding fluid), or even the rapid quenching of single-cell droplets to cryogenic temperatures with and without freezing (on the order of one hundred ergs), we apply the laws of thermodynamics in addition to fluid mechanics and principles of cell biology to better understand and ultimately turn these energetic processes to practical application.