MD&M West Keynote Speaker Marc Madou: Bring Back Manufacturing!

Putting CDs and CD-player technology to work as cost-effective microfluidics systems for IVD applications gets UC Irvine professor Marc Madou excited, but it’s his desire to bring high-tech manufacturing back to the United States—to better deliver innovative technological ideas like his to the masses—that gets him really fired up.

Speaking at MD&M West early yesterday morning, Dr. Madou, Chancellor’s Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, shared not only the details of CD microfluidics and its potential for IVD but also his passion for returning manufacturing to the United States again. Research and discovery “have lost their link to manufacturing here,” he said. There is no manufacturing at major universities; it is mainly outsourced, often abroad, he continued. As such, back-and-forth communication and continued collaboration between those who originate the technology and those who manufacture it is lost, to the detriment of all stakeholders.

Madou sees this phenomenon as the result, in part, of a culture that no longer values manufacturing as it once did. Our infatuation with all things digital and virtual is likely to blame for this perception, Madou suggested in a brief conversation with me after his talk. The field of mechanical engineering, for example, is not a particularly popular career choice for today’s digitally minded university students, even though it remains vitally important to technological innovation and its commercialization. Fortunately, Madou pointed out, there also exists a type of grassroots “maker movement” taking hold in major U.S. cities, primarily in the form of Maker Faires, which “celebrate invention, creativity and resourcefulness” by showcasing DIY projects and feats of science and engineering produced by hand by amateurs, even children. The fairs have been gaining in popularity since their debut in 2006 and seem to be successful in demonstrating how cool, exciting, and important making things (i.e., manufacturing) can be.

The things Madou and his students are making in Madou’s BioMEMS laboratory at UC Irvine include the aforementioned microfluidic CD system, which takes advantage of centrifugal forces for fluid propulsion. Fluidic channels and reservoirs are embedded in a CD-like plastic substrate, Madou explained at MD&M, and the whole platform is spun on a motor in order to manipulate fluids. A range of fluidic functions have been designed and implemented, including valving, decanting, calibration, mixing, metering, sample splitting, and separation. Those fluidic functions have been combined with analytical measurement techniques, such as optical imaging, absorbance, and fluorescence spectroscopy and mass spectrometry, to make the centrifugal platform a viable, inexpensive solution for medical and clinical diagnostics. Applications of a compact-disc-based centrifuge platform include an automated immunoassay platform, multiple parallel screening assays, and cellular-based assays.

Additional information on Dr. Madou's microfluidics CD system is available on Qmed.

—Maureen Kingsley