BIG IDEAS ORIGINATING FROM SMALL
(from BUFFALO Engineer 2018, “Engineering a healthier future. Engineering and medicine join forces to advance health care.” by Colleen Karuza; http://engineering.buffalo.edu/home/news/buffalo-engineer/feature-2.host.html/content/shared/engineering/home/buffalo-engineer/2018/features/engineering-a-healthier-future.detail.html)
Kwang Oh is the director of the Sensors and MicroActuators Learning Lab, known as SMALL, which focuses on biomedical microfluidic devices, sensors and actuators.
Kwang W. Oh is director of UB’s Sensors and MicroActuators Learning Lab (SMALL), a place, he says, where big things stem from micro- and nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter at micro, molecular and atomic scales. Focusing on micro- and nanotechnology-based biological micro-electro-mechanical-systems (BioMEMS), Oh provides life scientists and physicians with the right tools “to solve problems in their own fields.”
Oh came to UB in 2006 from Samsung, where he served as a member of its senior research and development team. “I was exposed to the very real problems facing the life sciences and subsequently developed a keen interest in applying engineering tools to the fields of biomedical research,” he said. At UB, he found other like-minded individuals who understood the important interplay of biology and technology.
Oh, who holds appointments in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, explains that the science behind BioMEMS has played a significant role in ushering in recent advances in genomics, proteomics, single cell analysis and point-of-care diagnostics. BioMEMS research encompasses lab-on-a-chip technology, in which one or more laboratory functions are integrated onto a single chip using trace amounts of fluids, such as blood. Microfluidics forms the basis for much of Oh’s research, including the building of phantom models to test wearable medical devices.
And what do Easter eggs have to offer bioengineering research? “Quite a lot,” says Oh. Inspired by the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg painting technique called “pysanky,” in which elaborate miniature wax designs are printed on the surface of an egg, “we applied a paraffin wax-based approach to low cost, rapid prototyping of microfluidic devices.”
Oh is also investigating new ways to harness vacuum-driven energy to create more reliable microfluidic components, such as micropumps and microvalves, to facilitate lab-on-a-chip commercialization. “We have devised a manual, syringe-assisted, vacuum-driven micropump for plasma separation from a tiny drop of finger-prick blood and believe it has the potential to lead to practical biomedical lab-on-a-chip devices that can screen for glucose levels, cancer cells, viruses, DNA molecules and other applications.”
Because technology provides the tools and biology the problems, the two should enjoy a happy marriage.
Oh likes to share his favorite quote, which he came across in a journal article, with his colleagues and trainees. “It pretty much sums up the relationship our engineers have with clinicians and life scientists,” he says.