Microfludic biochips

I do research on methods and tools for the programming, compilation, modeling, simulation, physical design and control of microfluidic biochips.

Microfluidic biochips (also known as lab-on-a-chip) are an alternative to conventional biochemical laboratories, and are revolutionizing many application, such as such as molecular biology procedures, DNA analysis, proteomics (the study of proteins) and clinical pathology (diagnostic of diseases). They are becoming increasingly complex, with thousands of components, but are designed manually (called bottom-up full-custom design), which is extremely labor intensive and error prone.




The challenges facing biochips are similar to those faced by microelectronics some decades ago. A typical microprocessor today has over a billion transistors. Such a design complexity is possible because engineers are using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tools, which, starting from a specification of the desired functionality, automatically build the best possible design (such a process is called top-down design). As in the microelectronics area, CAD tools will reduce the development costs, increase the design productivity and yield, and are the key to the further growth and market penetration of biochips. My research vision is to develop a design flow for biochips, which, starting from a system specification can automatically derive a physical biochip design

Although biochips are becoming complex, with thousands of components, the current programming practice is to expose all of these components to the biochemist end-user, who has to control individually each component to implement the protocols. This is like programming computers by toggling individually each transistor. This approach requires expertise in microfluidics and in hardware/software engineering (besides biochemistry), it is very time consuming and error prone, and makes it impossible to optimize the use of expensive agents and hard-to-obtain samples. In addition, any errors in the biochip will result in a costly protocol failure. My research vision in this area is to bring biochips to the same level of programmability as computers.

From flasks to biochips
From flasks to biochips

Paul Pop