A Flikr group called “Art on a Chip” shows an artistic side to a hot area of technology: microfluidics devices. In the group a vibrant collection of images shows cells, channels and fluids on the micro scale. Researchers are encouraged to upload a favorite picture captured through their research, says the curator of the online collection, Albert Folch, an associate professor in BioMEMs and Microfluidics at the University of Washington.
“Our fields of research are bursting with art,” Folch says in his introduction to the website. “I am willing to bet that your hard drive contains at least one gorgeous image that will make me catch my breath.”
Many of the images come from Folch’s own collection, and the gallery is a repository for happy accidents. “A lot of times we make mistakes in research that are prettier than the ones we end up publishing,” Folch says.
Microfluidics devices consist of a combination of tiny channels that interface with microelectronics. They have a range of potential applications, including hand-held contraptions that can quickly detect diseases, and are a hot topic of recent research.
Folch was at µTAS, a microfluidics meeting in San Diego in 2008, when he entered the meeting’s open picture competition with an image from one of his papers. He didn’t win, but was captivated by the beauty of entries from fellow participants. He brought the idea back to Lab on a Chip, where he now serves as Art Editor. Folch announced the gallery’s opening on its Flikr Web site on June 24, 2010, and enthusiastically awaits contributions.
“Microfluidics Butterfly” (above) was created by arranging two mirror images of a micromixer–a device that controls the path of fluid flow–next to each other, and then superimposing them on a blue background.