Lab on a chip impresses
When shown a four-inch silicon wafer which contained some 60 million nano-test tubes, The Duke of Edinburgh's first curiosity was "how do you get fluid into those?" The explanation, by Professor David Barrow, was that this was not a problem for a laboratory-on-a-chip that uses technology similar to that used in ink jet printers.
The demonstration helped to illustrate how traditional glass vials and test tubes will become laboratory antiques as scientists increasingly turn to 'laboratory-on-a-chip', a new and major research technique which brings together 'sensors' and processing hardware. This uses techniques borrowed from the semiconductor chip industry but extended and enhanced. Instead of two dimensional silicon structures, however, chip laboratories use three- dimensional circuits where chemical reactions can take place in miniature channels or micro sized test-tubes. It is predicted to transform many aspects of living in the 21st century, from manufacturing in the agricultural, food, process, chemical and pharmaceutical industries to biodiversity auditing of natural ecosystems.
Whilst this may be high-brow science for most of us, The Duke of Edinburgh was knowledgeable and perceptive in his questioning. "He really knew his stuff," concluded an impressed Professor Barrow.