The art in science of MicroTAS: the 2014 issue

Darwin R. Reyes
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, MD, USA. E-mail:

For the 7th year in a row the Art in Science award competition, sponsored by Lab on a Chip (LOC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), took place at the 18th International Conference of Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences held in San Antonio, Texas (USA) in October 2014. Out of 25 submissions the award was presented to David Castro from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia (Fig. 1) for the image titled “The Sphere”, which is featured on the cover of this issue (Fig. 2). The image is a micrograph of an aqueous droplet hanging between two fluids in a square cuvette.1 This 40 μL droplet was formed between a layer of perfluorohexane and mineral oil, and it is comprised of agglutinated functionalized latex beads mixed with human C-reactive proteins. This extraordinary image, although of a very small droplet, could give the impression of a celestial body as seen through the window of a futuristic space ship.
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Fig. 1 Shilpa Sivashankar (representing David Castro) of KAUST (center left) receives the 7th Annual MicroTAS Art in Science Award presented by Darwin Reyes of NIST (left), Harpal Minhas of LOC/Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) (center right) and Albert Folch of the University of Washington (right).

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Fig. 2 MicroTAS Art in Science 2014 award winner “The Sphere”, submitted by David Castro of the Department of Electrical Engineering, KAUST (Saudi Arabia).

Since the establishment of the Art in Science Award 7 years ago, the Lab on a Chip journal has portrayed on its cover some of the most impressive images from the MicroTAS conference. The images shown on the cover and in the editorials that announce the winners are considered by many to have great artistic value. It seems as though in the same way that microfluidics have found a scientific niche at a dimensional scale where different than the usual laws dominate, the art that is found at the microfluidic “scale” can produce artistic features that are exclusively seen at this scale. One common example of a microfluidic feature is the common laminar flow. This type of flow can be tweaked in many different ways so that many images of great artistic value can be generated with a single device. This, and the constant pursuit of new types of devices by the scientific community makes the microTAS Art in Science award competition more challenging each year and at the same time an invaluable source of art.

The selection committee for the 2014 Art in Science award included representatives from industry, academia, government and scientific publishers. This year's committee was composed of Omar Jina from Dolomite, Prof. Albert Folch from the University of Washington, Darwin Reyes from NIST and Harpal Minhas from LOC/Royal Society of Chemistry. Several criteria were taken into account when considering each of the submissions. Specifically, the submissions were judged for their originality, scientific merit, visual appeal, and suitability for a Lab on a Chip front cover. As in previous years, the selection committee had a difficult task when scrutinizing the images to select the finalists and the winner of the award. The judges first agreed on the top four submissions, followed by deliberations and a final vote that ultimately decided the selection of the winner. The top 3 runners-up for the 2014 Art in Science award are as follows:

1st runner up - “Wicking glass channels” by Manuel Ochoa of Purdue University (Fig. 3).

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Fig. 3 Award 1st runner up - “Wicking glass channels”, submitted by Manuel Ochoa of Purdue University. This image shows two streams of dyes on cracked glass overlapping at the junction of a central channel on soda-lime glass. The cracked glass structure allows for rapid wicking and mixing of liquids.

2nd runner up - “Acoustic Streaming Effects” by Po-Hsun Huang of Pennsylvania State University (Fig. 4).

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Fig. 4 Award 2nd runner up - “Acoustic Streaming Effects”, submitted by Po-Hsun Huang of Pennsylvania State University. The image depicts acoustic streaming patterns produced when a piezoelectric transducer is used to generate acoustic oscillations around the tips of the triangular, solid sharp-edges inside a microfluidic channel.

3rd runner up - “Scanning electron micrograph of a highly porous polymer” by Florian Lapierre of Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5 Award 3rd runner up – “SEM of a highly porous polymer”, submitted by Florian Lapierre of RMIT. This electron micrograph portrays a highly porous polymeric bead produced from what is called high internal phase emulsion or HIPE. The process occurs inside a droplet-based microfluidic device and the bead is cross-linked using UV irradiation.


The Art in Science award is sponsored and supported by MicroTAS, the Chemical and Biological Microsystems Society (CBMS), the Lab on a Chip journal, and NIST. The award consists of a monetary prize ($2,500), an award certificate, and the coveted front cover of the Lab on a Chip journal. Please check the MicroTAS 2015 conference website for further details regarding the submission of images for the next MicroTAS Conference in Gyeongju, Korea.


  1. S. Sivashankar, D. Castro, U. Buttner and I. G. Foulds, Real-Time Agglutination within a Microdroplet in a Three Phase Fluidic Well for Detection of Biomarkers, MicroTAS, 2014, 2097–2100 Search PubMed.


Any opinions or views expressed in the following article are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the journal, Lab on a Chip, or The Royal Society of Chemistry.

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2015