Science - How to Have your Cake and Eat it!

(November 17th, 2016) During a recent conference, EPFL scientist, Enrica Rollo, won the 2016 µTAS video competition. Her mouth-watering entry? A chocolate cake that explains how cells can be separated using micropillar electrodes.

The 20th International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences (µTAS) took place this year in Dublin, Ireland. Between 9th and 13th October 2016, it has seen more than 900 scientists gathered up to learn and discuss new advances in microfluidics, microfabrication, nanotechnology, analysis and synthesis, and detection technologies for life science and chemistry. Attendees took part in plenary talks, oral presentations, workshops and various competitions.

One of the most interesting was the µTAS video competition, supported by the Chemical and Biological Microsystems Society. Celebrating its ternary anniversary this year, the organisers were proud to announce the winning entry, Micropillars Chocolate Cake, made by Enrica Rollo, a student at EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland. By making analogies between a sponge cake and a silicon wafer, chocolate ganache and silicon dioxide, hazelnuts and platinum, and coconuts with titanium, Enrica created edible micropillar electrodes in her own kitchen!

In the video, she first cuts three squares in the sponge cake, the way an engineer would transfer geometric shapes onto the silicone wafer by photolithography. Then, she covers the three cut-out cubes and the rest of the cake with chocolate ganache, to prevent the cake from drying and losing its flavours. Similarly to the chocolate ganache, silicone dioxide is used to cover the wafer in microfluidic devices - the device becomes more resilient and longer lasting. Next, Enrica creates multiple layers on top of her cake, by sprinkling it with coconut flakes (adhesion layer of titanium) and hazelnuts (platinum). For the final touches, she uses glazing to spray-coat her cake, the way an engineer spray-coats the photoresist onto the device. After sprinkling the assembly with powdered sugar, she creates channel-like patterns onto her cake so that cell-like hazelnuts can flow through the electrode-like sponge (micro)pillars. 

Her work shows that with a little imagination and a good understanding of microfluidics technology, one can explain difficult scientific concepts in delicious lay-audience terms. The runner up of the 2016 µTAS Video Competition was Burcu Gumuscu from the University of Twente, with the entry Keep Calm and Keep’em Separated. In her video, she shows how microfluidics can help to detect genetic disorders in a blood sample.

Nadejda Capatina

Photo: from Enrica's video

Last Changes: 12.09.2016