Scaling Microfluidics to Complex, Dynamic Protocols

ICCAD 2019, November 2019
Invited Paper
  title = {Scaling Microfluidics to Complex, Dynamic Protocols},
  author = {
    Max Willsey and
    Ashley P. Stephenson and
    Chris Takahashi and
    Bichlien H. Nguyen and
    Sarang Joshi and
    Karin Strauss and
    Luis Ceze
  booktitle = {
    Proceedings of the
    International Conference on Computer-Aided Design 2019
  series = {ICCAD '19},
  month = {11},
  year = {2019},
  location = {Westminster, CO, USA},
  publisher = {IEEE},


Microfluidic devices promise to automate wetlab procedures by manipulating small chemical or biological samples. We are developing a full-stack microfluidic automation platform that allows and allows users to scale up the complexity of microfluidic programming, encouraging them to mix fluidic manipulations with traditional programming.

Puddle is a runtime system that provides a high-level API for microfluidic manipulations. It manages fluidic resources dynamically, allowing programmers to freely mix regular computation with microfluidics, resulting in more expressive programs. It also provides real-time error correction through a computer vision system, allowing robust execution on cheaper digital microfluidic hardware.

We have been running Puddle on PurpleDrop, a new digital microfluidic device that is affordable and has novel features such as fully automated input/output of fluids. With this combination, we have demonstrated PCR with automated replenishment, a DNA sequencing preparation protocol, and the complete retrieval of digital data stored in dehydrated spots of DNA on the device’s surface.

Going forward, we see Puddle and PurpleDrop as part of a platform for further research. PurpleDrop is affordable and extensible, which makes a compelling case for adding new peripherals or even scaling out by connecting multiple devices. And Puddle provides a flexible and abstract programming model that could enable microfluidic programs to run on different hardware targets (DMF or liquid handling robots), or even a combination thereof.