On May 19th, 2010, Sara Van Overmeire successfully defended her PhD thesis and was awarded the degree of Doctor in Engineering. Her PhD research focused on "Novel micro-optical detection systems for microfluidic applications" (promotors: prof. dr. ir. Hugo Thienpont and prof. dr. ir. Heidi Ottevaere).
The goal of this work was to explore the use of micro-optical detection systems for detection in lab-on-a-chip devices, which contain microfluidic channels and microsized fluidic components to manipulate and probe small amounts of biological or chemical samples. Similar to a micro-electronic chip, a lab-on-a-chip integrates several functionalities on one substrate. However a lab-on-a-chip processes small amounts of fluids instead of data signals. As such complete, automated micro-laboratories can be created on a small chip surface. These systems carry out analyses more rapidly and at lower cost than bench-scale methods, they offer low sample consumption as well as enhanced reliability and sensitivity through process automation. Moreover their small size opens opportunities for the creation of portable systems. As such microfluidic systems will undoubtedly contribute to the development of real-time and on-site testing for biochemical analysis in various application areas such as point-of-care diagnosis and environmental monitoring.
In the past decades the development of practical microfluidic systems for biochemical analysis has evolved rapidly. However their applications have been limited to laboratory prototypes without widespread routine use in clinical diagnosis applications. One important reason is that the detection of the result of a chemical analysis is still a weak point in many lab-on-a-chip devices, because highly sensitive techniques are needed to probe the low amounts of molecules in microfluidic channels. Optical detection techniques can provide sufficient sensitivity; however they are commonly still accomplished by bulky and expensive microscopes located off-chip. These large instruments are incompatible with the concept of miniaturization and integration in microfluidic devices. Therefore miniaturized and integrated optical detection systems are needed to fully exploit the potential advantages of labs-on-chips.
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