The group of Electronic Components, Technology and Materials (ECTM) is part of the Department for Microelectronics at Delft University of Technology. The group has a long history and expertise in fabrication of microelectronic devices by exploiting micromachining technology in the Else Kooi cleanroom. Two years ago, professor Lina Sarro, chairman of the group, joined the Netherlands Organ on Chip Initiative (NOCI) which brought an opportunity to increase the group’s diversity by combining technology with biology and to welcome us, three new PhD students, to the NOCI community.
During many years, in our group as well as in the world of electronics in general, Moore’s law has been followed. Researchers have been trying to go as small as possible, to fit many electronic components on a small piece of silicon, or even to make a 3D integrated circuits. Today we have machines in the cleanroom that can perform processes with the precision of a few nanometers. Nevertheless, with the newborn Organ on Chip (OoC) group, different engineering challenges and requirements have been brought to ECTM.
Our small OoC group, that consists of two graduated and three active PhD students, together with several master students, is trying to steer towards a slightly different direction. To the group whose expertise, during many years, has been fabrication of transistors, optical components, microelectromechanical systems, sensors, actuators, etc, we are now giving a new purpose regarding the technology that can be developed and fabricated within. Due to the demands and challenges that came with the Organ on Chip field, we are trying to find the balance between micro and millimeter sized structures in the lab where nanometer scale became standard some time ago. By combining standard micromachining techniques with soft, biocompatible materials, we are exploiting the benefits of the cleanroom fabrication, and in the same time we are giving our best to meet the requirements set by research in biology. This process is a bit more complex than it seems and there are many struggles we are facing. For example, our silicon wafers are twice the thickness of the standard ones and often give headache to technicians, by requiring a “special care”. Sometimes we use very exotic (and dangerous) materials, which no one in the lab has used before, and which are not compatible with any of the standard processes or machines available in the cleanroom. There are times when we slightly burn our wafers while trying to get transistors floating on a thin piece of polymer. Finally, besides all the “high-tech” equipment that we have, sometimes a simple kapton tape or our handmade/3D printed tools show as very efficient solutions for daily problems that we encounter.
This is only the beginning of establishing a large Organ on Chip group within our department and there will be many more challenges to overcome during the whole process as well as during our PhD projects. We are very grateful for having the opportunity to do our research in such an unconventional and interdisciplinary way, while working together with the other NOCI partners.
Milica Dostanić NOCI PhD-student TUD