Small Scale Fluid Technology Means Big Business for South Bend

Author: Allison Nanni

By Allison Nanni

Fluids in minute quantities follow a physics that might seem odd to us. By understanding and manipulating the fluid’s physical properties, engineers in the emerging field of “microfluidics” have developed a wide range of practical applications.

For Hsueh-Chia Chang, Bayer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, the greatest uses of microfluidic technology will help tackle some of the world’s toughest health and environmental problems. But Chang is quick to point out that his vision is not to run a large corporation.

Instead, Chang has recruited Illinois-based F Cubed LLC to invest in a South Bend office. The local F Cubed team is responsible for the prototype development of an easy-to-operate, handheld device that rapidly identifies genetic material. In fifteen minutes, the new consumer cell phone-sized device will detect disease in a remote village with the same accuracy of a modern, city research lab—at ten to twenty percent of the cost. 

“I have seen poverty firsthand,” says Chang. “I have also seen what malaria can do, as well as polio….After I established myself academically, I decided I should do something that can impact human society. Rapid point-of-care diagnostics for the developing world happened to be something I could contribute to, and I seized the opportunity.”

As a young person, Chang also directly observed the transformative impact of new technology. Chang was born in Taiwan, but moved several times as the family followed the career path of his father, a biochemist. Chang remembers his father’s influential work as a scientist during the economic boom in Taiwan.

“I’ve seen what new industries can do for families and for communities in terms of job creation and economic development,” says Chang.

Within five years, Chang predicts two possible scenarios. He will either succeed in attracting to South Bend a multinational corporation that will transform the region’s economic climate, or another researcher will beat him to it.

Paul Bohn, Arthur J. Schmitt Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, says of his colleague’s research goals, “[We take] discoveries in the lab that have great potential and, with partners from inside and outside of the University, test them, turn them into usable tools, and get those tools out into the world where they can do some real good. It’s very entrepreneurial.”