Nate travels through UBC in Vancouver discovering amazing research projects and beautiful art, finishing up with a ride on the Mondo Spider.
This is a very large recap of my tour of Vancouver. Back at Maker Faire 2009 a gentleman came up to our booth and showed us
his amazing cape costume using LEDs and LilyPad parts. I was
really impressed so we gave him a SparkFun T-shirt and thanked him for
all the great work he had done. It's amazing what such a simple
connection can turn into!
Bruce Lau is a prolific costume builder, hacker, electronic bicyclist, and engineer. Among his many pursuits, Bruce co-founded Zaber Technologies, a highly technical and advanced linear actuator and stepper motor control company. I really don't know how I get myself into these amazing situations, but from this chance meeting at Maker Faire, Bruce recommended me to Jon Nakane at the University of British Columbia.
One of Jon's students from years previous (undergrad turned grad student) by the name of Tim Leaver took us on a tour of the microfluidics
lab at UBC. I had no idea such a thing existed! Let me try to describe
what you are seeing in the photo (I should have taken so many more!):
Imagine a flexible polymer with channels in it. Stack another polymer
layer on top with a thin layer in between channels. If you pump some
fluid into one of the channels, it will expand, pushing up on the layer
above it. This expansion cuts off a channel stacked above it -
basically forming a gate! On the monitor, you can see a dozen of these
gates. The slide under the microscope was the size of a quarter and had
hundreds of gates.
What can they do with this? The gates and channels are roughly on the scale of human cells. By pumping cells into the channels and controlling the actuators with Labview and a gaggle of actuators, individual cells can be isolated and analyzed. Using different biological techniques, they can amplify DNA and perform tests for genetic defects, cancers or other conditions. Working on this small scale, hundreds of single cells can be analyzed at a low cost and in a short amount of time. Why study single cells? As it turns out, up until now biologists have looked at bulk samples of cells, and assumed they are all similar (all the cells from a cancer tumor for example). As it turns out, this is not the case, and so new techniques like this will help them see what is going on a finer scale.