Published: Jan. 16, 2023 By
Brandon Hayes

Brandon Hayes, a PhD student in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering, recently took first place in a national competition for data analysis and presentation.

The competition was held during the 2022 ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition.

The IMECE NSF Student Poster Competition provides an opportunity for students to share their NSF-funded research and interact with fellow researchers from single-focus, multidisciplinary and international backgrounds.

“There were thousands of participants,” said Hayes. “It gave me a chance to make connections with other graduate students and professors who do similar research, which I hope will help advance my research into new avenues.”

The title of Hayes’ poster was “Thermal Bubble-Driven Micro-Pumps: The Building Blocks to Bring Microfluidics to the Masses,” which details how bubble-driven inertial pumps can be used to move liquids through microchannels.

“It was a surprise to learn that I took first place,” Hayes said. “You spend a lot of time collecting and analyzing data to put together research like that, and it’s nice to see that work recognized.”

His poster won based on a one-minute video presentation that was submitted and additional on-site judging during the event. Finalists were identified and evaluated by a group of judges, made up of professors and industry representatives, who were selected by the three event organizers.  

"Brandon is an exceptional student and this recognition is well-deserved,” said Hayes’s faculty adviser, Robert MacCurdy. “By enabling tiny on-chip pumps that move and mix fluids without any moving parts, his work is paving the way toward increased automation and lower costs for microfluidic systems."

Following the impressive accomplishment, Hayes shared more details about his award-winning poster and research.

Can you describe your research?

My research is in a field called microfluidics. In other words, how fluids move in extremely small spaces. But how do you move fluid in a channel the size of a human hair? My answer: bubbles. In my research, I use micro-bubbles as a pump source to move fluid in microfluidic channels. Specifically, I develop new ways to rapidly fabricate these micro-pumps and seek to better understand how they work and how they can be applied to healthcare applications. Imagine going in for a blood test and only needing a finger prick. Or shrinking down entire medical laboratories down into a handheld device.

How will your work impact society?

Microfluidics has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by creating a so-called "democratized" healthcare system. For example, when you go in for a blood test, blood is drawn and then sent to a centralized lab that processes your blood sample. This works if the infrastructure and a centralized lab is readily available. But what if you live in a rural area or simply where you live doesn't have access to a centralized lab? In these cases, being able to decentralize the process would be invaluable. Instead of a blood sample being sent to a centralized lab, the goal of microfluidics is to create a handheld device where blood can be analyzed immediately in a so-called "sample-to-answer" manner.

What is the next step for this project?

This project and my past projects have been about understanding and developing a new rapid fabrication process to create these micro-pumps based on bubbles. Now that I can quickly build these devices, the next step for this project is to introduce biologically relevant fluids like blood and cells to understand how these fluids interact with the micro-pump. This is currently an unanswered question which will need to be solved before this type of micro-pump can be used in healthcare.