Accepted Paper:

Microfluidic systems: challenges and opportunities for citizen science  


Mary Amasia (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute)

Paper short abstract:

Microfluidic systems for environmental monitoring automate complex analyses to yield results at the site of collection. However these systems have yet to see impact in citizen science initiatives. How can expert and lay methods be leveraged to address challenges of scale, expertise, and complexity?

Paper long abstract:

The miniaturization of diagnostic systems for health or environmental monitoring has brought about a number of improvements including increased portability, lower fabrication cost, and shorter delays between sample collection and test result. For example, microfluidic systems integrate complex processes into an automated sample-to-answer system, that can be used at the point of collection even in places far from large scale testing facilities. While there is potential for these systems to have impact in citizen science initiatives, the emphasis has largely been on developing products for the biotech industry. Citizen science initiatives have taken a more populist approach to create accessible systems through DIY testing or crowd-sourced monitoring. However, these approaches tend to focus on vectors that are easy to test or have to be paired with existing testing infrastructures. For example, in the recent case in Flint, MI citizens' drinking water samples were transported to a research lab in another state for analysis with expensive instrumentation. My work is currently exploring the appropriate design space to address the challenges of monitoring infrastructures, in terms of issues of scale, expertise, and automation. There are many challenges in bringing expert and DIY methods together. Working at the intersection of microfluidic systems engineering and critical technical practice, I consider questions such as: What is testable? What counts as direct evidence? What makes a particular sensing method accountable or auditable within the existing legal and political context? How can expert and lay methods best be leveraged together?

Panel T106
Citizen science: Beyond the laboratory