Visa Information

Consular Services
and Travel Advice

Political, Economic
& Defence Sections


Cultural & Education

News from Britain

About the Embassy

Addresses and links
Foreign & Commonwealth Office   
British Consulate-General, Shanghai   
China-Britain Business Council   
British Chamber of Commerce in China   
Union Flag
British Embassy, Beijing
People's Republic of China


The Forensic Laboratory on a Chip

FORENSIC analysis at the scenes of crime normally involves investigations by numerous scientists and laboratories that typically take weeks.

But Dr Andrew de Mello's Micromixer glass chip (nicknamed the ``Lilliput laboratory'') contains what appears to be an entire laboratory the size of a thumbnail capable of carrying out all the tasks in a matter of minutes.

A chemist in the research team based at the Zeneca SmithKline Beecham Centre for Analytical Sciences at London's Imperial College, Dr de Mello said that carrying out a biological or chemical analysis involves getting the chemical into an instrument, filtering out the contaminants and then carrying out the reactive test.

His Lilliput laboratory, has a maze of channels 50 hundredths of a millimetre wide etched on a minuscule piece of glass that is sandwiched between two other pieces of glass.

Chemicals used in the reaction process are injected using miniature pumps. Once the chemicals are mixed, applying an electric field can separate products. In response, molecules of different size travel through the channels at different speeds allowing them to be captured separately.

Tiny spots of blood can be analysed using a heating and cooling method that amplifies the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Using traditional methods the process is slow (around 50 minutes): the chip does it in 90 seconds. The advantages of Lilliput laboratories is that they are easy to make and safer to use. Besides benefiting forensic science they have an application in testing new drugs.

Imperial College's research programme is part of a 3.2 million pounds sterling project being carried out with six other universities and 10 drug companies ensuring the UK will stay ahead in the highly competitive ``Lilliputian world''.

A serious spur is the completion in five years' time of the International Human Genome Project that will give scientists a genetic map linking genes and disease. This is expected to be the basis for DNA chips carried on swipe cards. With such a genetic profile the card would reveal immediately to what drugs a patient would respond.



Menu page



Key facts

Science News