What is Microfluidics? Terminology and History

What is Microfluidics?

Microfluidics is the study of systems that manipulate the fluid flow at micro level domain. Microfluidics has multiple categorizations, however broadly it can be categorized into two - Channel based and Droplet based microfluidics.

Typically, the fluid (e.g. Blood, Chemical reagents, and others) is made to flow through channels of the dimensions ranging from 0.9µm to 100µm in size. This type of study is referred to as channel based or continuous flow microfluidics.

Droplet based microfluidics manipulates discrete volumes of fluids in immiscible phases with low Reynolds number and laminar flow regimes.

Now this study seems all too easy, but the task at hand is very difficult to achieve. Unlike at meso or macro level domain where the volume forces dominate the surface forces (all mechanical engineers smiling while reading this!😎), at micro scale the surface forces dominate the volume forces. This would mean that, for highly viscous fluids such as blood, it would be very difficult to flow through a micro-channel at nominal atmospheric pressure.

Microfluidics is a highly segmented domain, and has too many categorizations based on applications and materials. Initially, applications of microfluidics were limited to a few, but in more recent times many researchers and universities have identified various possible applications for this domain, thereby expanding its outreach.

The advantages that microfluidics offers over conventional methods are:

  • Small form-factor; elimination of large auxiliary equipment

  • Lesser quantities of sample solution and reagents thereby reducing storage and decreasing costs

  • High sensitivity and resolution of analysis

  • Lesser time for analysis

We will discuss the various current and future applications of microfluidics in a separate blog.


Microfluidic devices were first termed and developed in the 1980s. These devices were fabricated using conventional and traditional manufacturing techniques of MEMS and silicon based devices. The first application of microfluidics was the ink-jet print-heads that was spearheaded by HP. Since then, this domain has grown just like the roots and branches of a large tree in every possible direction.

We will deep dive into various categories of microfluidics in our next blog. Do keep an eye on this channel.







6. Kin Fong Lei, Introduction: The Origin, Current Status, and Future of Microfluidics

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