Questions for ‘Drop by drop — a novel way to shape devices for studying liquids’ 

a dropper builds tiny channels of liquid in a petri dish

A dropper builds tiny channels for liquid, one orange droplet of water at a time. These channels can be easily configured, cut or changed. In this way, researchers can quickly adjust an experiment in real time.

Courtesy Xin Du

To accompany Drop by drop — a novel way to shape devices for studying liquids’  


Before Reading:

  1. Model airplane sets usually come with pieces that you glue together. How is a Lego set different? What do you think is one appeal of playing with a toy like a Lego set?
  2. If you try to mix olive oil into a glass of water, the water and oil will separate. The water sinks to the bottom, and the oil floats on top. This layering effect happens due to density differences between oil and water. Which do you think has the higher density: olive oil or water? Use the concept of density to explain why olive oil forms a layer atop water.

During Reading:

  1. What is microfluidics?
  2. Give two examples of scientific questions that microfluidics can help explore.
  3. What are organoids? Briefly describe their value to medical science.
  4. Scientists can use microfluidic devices to help liquids flow through organoids. What is one drawback to using typical microfluidic devices?
  5. What does it mean for a microfluidic device to be “reconfigurable”?
  6. What would be the value of a reconfigurable microfluidic device over a typical one?
  7. Describe one way that drops of water in this new device work similarly to Lego bricks.
  8. Is the density of silicone oil higher, lower or equal to the water droplets used in this experiment?
  9. What problem was solved by immersing the new device in silicone oil?

After Reading:

  1. As described in this story, a popular children’s toy inspired the invention of a new scientific tool. Now, consider how the reverse might occur. How might this technology be used to invent a new toy?
  2. Imagine a drop of water-soluble ink resting on one side of a small desk. Your task is to move some ink across the table using only a dropper bottle of water. Explain how you might accomplish this task using only drops of water. Consider the similarities between the technique you’ve described and the new technology from this story. Briefly explain how both make use of the natural properties of water.