Have Your Science... And Eat It Too

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Somewhere, parents are eating their words after years of telling their children not to play with their food. In order to teach students about the field of microfluidics, three researchers from the University of British Columbia decided to turn to a delicious, wiggly gelatin – JELL-O.

But first, what is microfluidics, anyway? The field deals with the manipulation of fluids on a very small scale. As it turns out, on the micro level, fluids behave differently than your average flow from the tap. Microfluidics attempts to figure out how these new properties can be used or overcome. The most familiar technology to be birthed from microfluidics is the inkjet printhead, which spews between 64,000 and 165,000 tiny droplets per second.

An illustration of the JELL-O microfluidics lab developed by the Lagally Lab Outreach program

In their paper, the researchers discuss using JELL-O to create “chips” - plates filled with the JELL-O molded around a desired shape - which could then be poked with straws and filled with dyed fluid. The shape molded into the JELL-O acts as a channel for the fluid, demonstrating fluid pressure and flow on the small(ish) scale. In an additional activity, the chips acted as mini-labs to introduce pH sensing and the difference between acidic and basic fluids. Their website offers step by step instructions for those who'd like to give it a try.

The only thing this research is missing is a jolly endorsement by Bill Cosby.

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