Mini-Lab puts the Future of Scientific Discovery Into Your Pocket
Just as computers have dwindled from mainframes to small, more powerful devices, scientific equipment is becoming more diminutive and effective, too. Harvard University has developed a device that can fit in the palm of a hand or slip into a pocket, yet take the place of an entire laboratory.
The mini-lab, a microfluidic sorting device, is smaller than an Android phone. It can classify compounds much faster – as much as 1,000 times more quickly – than larger equipment currently used. Harvard created the tool to make scientific research more environmentally sustainable. Energy efficiency and ease of use will reduce costs, speed processes, and hasten development of new biofuels from microbes.
The nanotechnology breakthrough is the brainchild of a team from Harvard, the National Science Foundation, MIT, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, and several European institutions. The inventors estimate the tool will yield a million-fold drop in the cost of screening cells by using significantly less reagent and energy. It can rapidly identify microorganisms needed to produce biofuels, and may assist in new techniques to clean contaminated land.