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News

MEDICAL INNOVATION – MICROPUMPS

Fraunhofer Institute For Biomedical Engineering (IBMT, St Ingbert) : 30 June, 2009  (Special Report)
FOCUS ZONE REPORT In biomedicine and biotechnology the smallest, complex, compound sample quantities needs to be reliably processed and microsystems with new mechanisms of action for pumping, filtering and separating will manage this task with great efficiency in the future.
Providing reliable evidence of viruses in human blood presently requires time- and labour-intensive molecular-biological procedures. Established methods are particularly hard pushed to produce evidence when the viral burden is very low, for example during a phase of therapy.

This situation could soon change because while developing new types of micro-pumps without movable parts, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT has discovered an unexpected phenomenon: stable turbulence structures formed in the microscale pump channels. The nano- and microparticles actually intended to verify the pump effect accumulated in large quantities in the channels. The vortex patterns completely filled the whole microchannel, creating a virtually 100 percent trap for the particles that followed the generated flow profile, although there is a very large cross-section to flow through.

“The development of flow vortices is nothing unusual on the macroscopic scale. However, in microchannels the flow lines almost run in parallel,” explained Richard Stein from the IBMT. “The question, therefore, was, how is it possible for vortices to be formed from this which were sufficiently stable and effective for the concentration of nanoparticles?”

Experiments were not successful in determining the parameters by which the filter effect could be systematically controlled. This is because in the pump mechanism examined, high-frequency electrical traveling waves propel the fluid into the microchannels, superimposing a large number of effects on one another.

“In order to understand the complex procedures, there was a clear need for a theoretical description. My task was to describe the surprising phenomenon and to make it controllable,” reflected Richard Stein. In his thesis “Mathematical modelling, analysis and numerical simulation of electrothermally driven micropumps”, Richard Stein has succeeded in explaining the development of the vortex pattern. To this end, he had to factor in all the relevant processes of an electrical, thermal and hydrodynamic nature in a three-dimensional model. The innovative approach taken by Stein has helped him to receive the 1st Hugo Geiger Prize for this paper. The findings contained in the paper explain the observed effects completely, so that now both effective micropumps and efficient particle filters can be developed and built for many biomedical applications.
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