Microfluidic Art Portfolio - Savannah Szemethy

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CHEM-ENG 535: Microfluidics and Microscale Analysis in Materials and Biology

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A collection of microfluidic art by Savannah Szemethy

My microfluidic art consists of imagery rather than geometric design and uses the photolithography/soft lithography method for device creation. My main focus is color theory, and I like to use bold, bright colors, especially brilliant pinks and blues. I am very particular about lineart and spend hours in Adobe Illustrator to ensure that the final linework is clean and smooth.

In accordance with my focus on color theory, my devices tend to have larger feature sizes to accommodate patterns and gradients. I fill all of my devices with a syringe pump so that I have precise control over flow and can minimize flooding. For some devices, such as the Eye design, I pause the flow of the syringe pump after the device has completely filled and poke the PDMS layer with tweezers in order to disrupt the fluid and create patterns of color when the flow restarts.

Due to my larger feature sizes, my biggest challenge with the creation of these devices was the issue of flooding. Since my artworks fill most of the space on the glass slides and have big channels, there is less surface area for bonding between the PDMS and the glass slide. As such, the strength of the plasma bond can be rather weak at times, causing the devices to flood and leak during the filling process. In order to mitigate this error, I began to bake the completed microfluidic device on the hot plate at 65+ oC for at least 30 min after plasma bonding to strengthen the bond. This post-plasma bake has greatly reduced the risk of flooding, although leakage will still sometimes occur at an inlet, as shown below with the D20 design.

Pictured below is my final gallery of completed devices. Over the course of the three years that I have been making this art, I have attempted to make many more devices than shown below, but some designs had to be scrapped or reworked due to difficulties with device fabrication or fluidic filling. A final artistic microfluidic chip can take about 15-25 hours to create, depending on the complexity of the design.

A portrait of a woman inspired by the Victorian Gothic era. The design features a profile of the woman surrounded by haunting spirits and vines. The device incompletely filled, leaving her eye empty and hollow as opposed to a filled-in pupil. The black dye solution was much more concentrated and well-mixed than the purple dye solution so that the purple fluid appeared fuzzy and cryptic. Created by Savannah Szemethy
A design of an open eye with thick eyelashes and dripping mascara. The slight gradient and swirling pattern were created by poking the device with tweezers while the flow was stopped and later restarted. Created by Savannah Szemethy
A D20 polyhedral die typically used in the game Dungeons & Dragons. Blue, purple, and pink dye were mixed to create a colorful gradient. The air bubbles in the design are reminiscent of specks of glitter that are often found in transparent versions of these dice. Slight flooding did occur at the upper left inlet but did not significantly obscure the design features. Created by Savannah Szemethy
A microfluidic device inspired by the Mickey Mouse Balloons from Disneyland but instead reminiscent of Minnie Mouse rather than Mickey. I have been a fan of Disney all my life, and my nickname at my job at the end of high school was Minnie Mouse because I used to wear large bows to work, so Minnie holds a special place in my heart. This design highlights laminar flow as a result of little to no diffusive mixing between the red and black fluid. Created by Savannah Szemethy
A microfluidic device in the shape of a sugar skull. This design mainly focuses on symmetry and linework. Due to the intricacy of the features, some air bubbles remained, so spots of the device are not completely filled. Created by Savannah Szemethy
The White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The swirling pattern in the back was created by pushing the acceleration button on the syringe pump so that spurts of fluid would accelerate into the device and thus create turbulent flow. This device was more tightly plasma-bonded than others, so it could handle the violent flow without flooding. Created by Savannah Szemethy
A design that showcases the different subfields within chemical engineering - chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, mechanics, and material science. The gradient and swirling was created while using tweezers to prod a large air bubble out of the device. Created by Savannah Szemethy
A portrait of Albert Einstein. The interesting color flow pattern naturally arose as the device was filling due to the intricacy and angled orientation of the channels. Created by Savannah Szemethy