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Monica Brivio (promotion date: 25 February 2005)

Real-time studies of chemical reactions in lab-on-a-chip devices

Promotion Date: 25 February 2005

Monica Brivio

First of all: lab-on-a-chip is a very new project. It has a very famous parent related to it: the MicroTAS (Micro Total Analysis System) project, which involved the miniaturization of the analytical instrumentation while lab-on-a-chip is aimed at applications in organic chemistry.

It is the study of chemical reactions on a small scale.

The main focus of my thesis was to realize a lab-on-a-chip device consisting of a microreactor ( the chip where the chemical reaction is carried out) on-line coupled to the analytical instrumentation (a mass spectrometer). This lab-on-a-chip would be useful to study reactions in real time

What was your thesis about?

First of all: lab-on-a-chip is a very new project. It has a very famous parent related to it: the MicroTAS (Micro Total Analysis System) project, which involved the miniaturization of the analytical instrumentation while lab-on-a-chip is aimed at applications in organic chemistry.
It is the study of chemical reactions on a small scale.
The main focus of my thesis was to realize a lab-on-a-chip device consisting of a microreactor ( the chip where the chemical reaction is carried out) on-line coupled to the analytical instrumentation (a mass spectrometer). This lab-on-a-chip would be useful to study reactions in real time.

Does the scale of the environment influence the chemical reaction?

No, it does not influence the reaction itself, if in a reaction vessel A+B=C, you will get the same result on a chip. But there are a number of advantages that are also related to the small dimensions. For one, reactions are very efficient; shorter reaction time, higher yields and purer products. In other words, you have better control over the reaction on a small scale, it is faster, cheaper (only a tiny amount of reagent is needed) and you get not a different, but a better quality product (better volume ratio without side products).

Chemical reaction is a pretty wide concept. Did you concentrate on a specific substance?

The concept being so new, we started with the basics, real fundamental research of the processes in the chip and connecting it to the analysis. We took simple reactions to start with, such as simple esterification reactions. We subsequently mainly focused on the demonstration of the advantages of doing on-line continuous-flow analysis, studying some supramolecular complexation as well as reaction kinetics.

How new is the lab-on-a-chip concept?

They started about three years before I started my PhD with the concept of a laboratory shrunk to a few micrometers, so in total 7 or 8 years ago. The lab-on-a-chip was a real technology push for further research, especially about the quality of the chemical reaction.

Can you think of any future applications?

There is a lot of talk about drug discovery, a pharmaceutical analysis of drugs.

It is also very useful to study the reactions themselves, lab-on-a-chip is an integrated system and you can have not only the reaction part, but also the analysis connected to it. The on-line analysis makes an enormous difference with conventional laboratory scale chemistry in that it allows the real time observation of the consequences of fine-tuning parameters, such as reagents concentration or temperature, on the reaction outcome.

How did you find out about Mesa and the Lab-on-a-chip group?

I was here in Twente 5 years ago with the Membrane Technology group, for my Master’s thesis (I studied in Italy). I stayed here for 10 months and came back for 2 months to finish some things and when I had a good look around to check what was going on here. Mind you, I do not have a chemical background (I studied Food Science and Technology). Then Professor David Reinhoudt told me about the lab-on-a-chip programme, really multi disciplinary and something to build up form scratch. That really interested me and a checked the literature of what it would involve and decided it would be very suitable for me with my multi disciplinary background. The real deep chemistry was not needed and in fact the lack of deep knowledge helped because it gives you an open eye for other disciplines as well; you are not totally and completely chemically orientated. That is utterly important for this kind of project.

Didn’t you mind continually having to ask others because of this multi disciplinary aspect?

I do not have problems with going around and talk to people. I did it right from the start, so from the very first beginning everybody knew what I was doing. I do not know if they felt bothered by me, but I did get things organized. And liked it very much.

It has to suit your character though.

Any setbacks?

The main advantage of the project as I see it, the multidisciplinary side to it, also posed some of the problems. There is as yet no real integration between groups, and I see many people willing to organize it, but on the other hand it is noticeable that some others are not keen at all. So for the larger part you have to organize it by yourself, fight for it. But fortunately I got plenty of support of my supervisors.

What are your plans?

I will shortly start my new job, a post doc with Albert van der Berg. And I would like to go to the US with my husband to do research there. If you want to stay at a University, it is very important to go to the US for at least a year. There are very advanced research groups there, also in the field of lab-on-a-chip.

For the summary of the thesis, click here.