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UWindsor student sole Canadian finalist in international engineering competition

A University of Windsor engineering student represented Canada on an international stage with a micromixer that can help researchers detect diseases and pathogens, identify pollutants or test material properties on a microscale quicker than ever.

Austin Liolli’s innovative design, developed with the aid of professor Jalal Ahamed, improves the efficiency of a lab-on-a-chip (LOC) — a device that shrinks and integrates processes performed in a bench-top laboratory on a chip that fits in the palm of your hand. The two authored a peer-reviewed research paper that was selected as one of the top five finalists in the prestigious Young Engineer Paper (YEP) Contest at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition (IMECE), the largest mechanical engineering conference in the world, which typically attracts 4,000 scientists and engineers from more than 75 countries.

Liolli, a second-year, electrical and computer engineering student and UWindsor Outstanding Scholar, presented at the 2016 IMECE in Phoenix, Arizona on Nov. 15 as the sole Canadian finalist and finished fourth, receiving an honorable mention. The ASME provided him with $750 for travel expenses and complimentary conference registration.

Liolli’s next-generation, lab-on-a-chip research decreases the amount of time it takes to mix and analyze fluids, such as a drop of blood or saliva, and enables users to 3D print a custom chip design for rapid production.

“One prototype can be used for various tasks,” said Liolli. “If the user feels they’re not getting efficient results on their chip, they don’t have to manufacture a new chip, which is costly and time consuming; they can simply program a different input signal.”

Compared to other devices, Liolli’s design reduces the dilution concentration range by 25 per cent, resulting in more accurate and uniform mixing in an area as thin as a strand of hair.

“Austin’s proposed design is unique because he is applying an electrical field in a three-dimensional manner, giving the user tremendous details that couldn’t be seen before,” said Dr. Ahamed, Liolli’s faculty advisor and director of UWindsor’s MicroNanoSystems Group. “Austin’s achievement is an ideal example of our undergraduate research success.”

LOCs make laboratory work portable, accessible and programmable. The small chips do not require expensive equipment, provide faster analysis and reduce chemical waste, making them an ideal, cost-effective diagnostic tool.

Liolli's paper is titled Design of a Hybrid Active and Passive Efficient Micromixer for 3D printed Microfluidics. The programmable lab-on-a-chip project is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants Program and the Canadian Microelectronic Corporation (CMC), which has provided the group with computer-aided design (CAD) tools.