Prof Yue Chee Yoon (Singapore)
Prof David E Hardt (MIT)
To explore the new boundaries of manufacturing and to create a programme well aligned with the long-term goals of Singapore, our research focuses on emerging industries of miniature devices with micro- and nano-dimensions. The Flagship Research Programme concentrates on the manufacture of microfluidic devices for various applications, including medical diagnosis chips, micro-reactors, and the emerging microfluidic photonic devices. The exciting new technologies for these applications based on the ability to manipulate materials at micron-level scales are of great promise. Nevertheless, this promise can only be realized if coupled with a comprehensive approach to commercial-scale manufacturing of the new products. Thus, the uniqueness of our programme is the focus on the scientific and engineering problems of bringing these emerging technologies to commercial viability The Flagship research will be connected to the overall emerging industry through our Inter-University research, which will concentrate on factory and industry-wide issues of these new products, processes and markets.
This focus allows the programme to concentrate on a well-defined class of problems (e.g. the production of fluid channels, wells, pumps, valves, etc) that challenges our notions of how manufacturing should be performed. Furthermore, in the near term, the diagnostic capabilities of microfluidic-based biomedical devices will greatly benefit from the ability to integrate optical functions such as fluorescence detection and interferometry into such devices. This can be conveniently achieved if the microfluidic devices are fabricated from polymer-based materials such as PMMA (polymethylmethacrylate) and PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane), which are optically transparent, and can, therefore, behave as an optical waveguide for laser light coupling into the device. These features are further enhanced by the ability to fabricate miniaturized optical components such as diffractive elements using polymer-based materials, thus paving the way for integrated optical interconnect components for signal interfacing on the same microfluidic device platform. The use of inexpensive polymers opens the possibility of single-use disposable chips.
The applications we anticipate are numerous, including devices for blood screening, molecular diagnosis, advanced drug delivery systems, as well as advanced drug-screening methods, and eventually more general microfluidic application in photonics and fluidic computation. These applications share the common manufacturing needs of:
From this perspective, the focus on microfluidic devices in these industries becomes an outstanding test bed for new ideas and research fundamentals for all aspects of manufacturing.
Research Thesis topics include:
The Inter-University Research Programme (IURP) concentrates on the factory and enterprise level issues related to emerging industries. These issues include those commonly considered “systems” problems, ranging from factory design and scheduling to supply chain management and basic business structures. However, they also include areas where systems and process physics concerns become coincident, most notably at the measurement, and quality control level. Since the industries we are approaching have little operational experience, we feel that the exploratory nature of the IURP is ideal for this systems focus, taking advantage of collaboration between MIT and Singapore to explore several ways in which emerging industries will present unique systems problem challenges.
The limited operational experience and the high stakes and high pressures of emerging industries lead us to conclude that the only way to contribute to their success is to identify and address system issues proactively, rather than reactively. We consider system issues, concurrently with the development of the new products and new manufacturing processes, and we will demonstrate the value of anticipating system issues at the time of process choices and technology development. If we wait until the potential issues become immediate problems for engineers and managers, it will be too late to influence fundamental decisions, and valuable opportunities – both economic and intellectual – will be missed.
The commercial success of new products such as microfluidic devices will rely not only on the fundamental engineering science of the processes and equipment involved, but on the effective design, planning, and control of the manufacturing facilities and supply chains involved in their procurement, production and distribution.
Research Thesis topics include fundamental issues related to: