Miniaturisation is critical in the diagnostic market, particularly as laboratory-scale processes are shrunk onto automated chip systems. That said, there are challenges en route such as the need for miniaturised electro-osmotic pumps (EOPs).
Normally, EOPs require bulky power sources, making them difficult to carry around and, in many respects, defeating their purpose.
Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a silicon membrane that could help. While EOPs have historically needed to operate at a very high voltage (about 10kV), the membrane works in the range of 0.25V, which means it can be powered with small batteries. This will allow operators to shrink the power source.
"Up until now, not everything associated with miniature pumps was miniaturised," said James McGrath, who developed the membrane. "Our device opens the door for a tremendous number of applications."
Diagnostic devices the size of a credit card are not too far afield.