Bioengineering: Microfluidics to the Rescue! (Day 2 of 3)

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Students will explore the intersection of life science and engineering through a study of the field of bioengineering and create simulated microfluidic chips using household materials.

Big Idea

Get your kids in engineering mode by creating and using simulated microfluidic chips!

Notes for the Teacher

Welcome to Day 2 of our three day exploration of microfluidic chips and the field of bioengineering. 

Day 1 starts with an introduction to the field of bioengineering and specifically the use of microfluidic chips.  

Standards: W.9-10.2, W.9-10.2d, SL.9-10.1

Today, students will design and fabricate their own microfluidic chip design.

Standards: SL.9-10.1, RST.9-10.3, SP3, SP6, SP8

And on Day 3, students will use their chips to observe laminar flow and reflect upon the engineering design process.

Standards: SL.9-10.1, W.9-10.2d, RST.9-10.3, SP3, SP6, SP8

 I have found that I can best support students by sharing with them that engineering is an iterative process that takes time.  The years I have allowed for students to move through this process at their own pace were much more successful than the year I attempted to streamline/shortcut things for them.  Gelatin is inexpensive, easily made and the time needed to set the gelatin is short, so no mistake is a disaster.  :)

Take a look at my video from our introduction day lesson where I discuss why this lesson series is something I include in my biology curriculum and how it relates to the new NGSS!

Also, check out my list of teacher tips and tricks for a great classroom experience making microfluidic chips!  The University of British Columbia website associated with the original article is where you can find all of the materials needed listed out in detail, along with video clips and supporting information.  

I look forward to hearing about your class' experience with bioengineering concepts and microfluidic chips!

  • Note:  This year (2015-2016), I revised the notes section of the revised EDN.  I feel that is was much more successful in this format, which listed the two major topic areas presented and essential questions for both areas (bioengineering and microfluidics) that could help students self-assess their learning.


The Classroom Flow: Getting Ready

10 minutes

1. Ask students to take out their engineering design notebooks and open to the data recording pages after their notes section that they will be using today. 

2. Show students the jello chip directions slide presentation for making their chips.

3.  Point out where all of their supplies are located and do a brief overview of safety in the room for the lab session.

  • Note:  The major hazards to review are related to ensuring that backpacks and other items are not on the floor and to ensure that there is not running or roughhousing happening in the classroom space.  I find that by this point in the school year, we have established clear basic safety rules and students are adept and consistent in following them.

The Classroom Flow: Making the Chips

40 minutes

1.  Ask students to move to their lab tables to begin their work for the day.  Remind them that they will be using their engineering design notebook to document their process. 

2. Students will have the rest of the class period to design and create their chip molds.  I allow students at each lab table to decide if they want to work in their original group of four or branch off into pairs.  Typically, students will do this if they are feeling like they have a creative chip mold design that they want to try in addition to the lab group designed chip.  In general, the classroom energy will be energetic and sometimes loud, but always productive, excited, and focused.

3.  The creation process will take the rest of the class period.  Encourage students to document their work and inspect their finished chip molds to see where they could improve the chances that their gelatin will come out the way they envision it.  

  • Note:  I find that I need to help in this inspection process at first--their first attempts may be a bit sloppy.  Once I point out that gelatin will go anywhere there is a crack or crevice, students are able to do the rest of the quality control process on their own.  They may ask you for glue guns or a variety of tapes in order to experiment with their methods and I encourage this.

See student sample of the EDN for more information on the kinds of data, drawings, and observations that students will share.  Based upon their documentation, I can envision improving this EDN by creating more explicit prompts to help students expand and organize their thinking. Take a look at my video outlining my goals concerning engineering design and the role of play and curiosity in the lesson. 


  • Note:  Today is all about supporting students by allowing them to create without too much input.  You can help guide them as they design and create their chips in whatever way you feel your students need.  I tend to do a quality check before adding in the gelatin--specifically I am looking to see that the tape and sticks are flush with the surface of the plate so that no gelatin creeps in under them.  

 Now on to Day 3!