What do tech buzzwords Jawbone, August Smart Lock and Sodastream have in common with Fluidigm microfluidics? Industrial design whiz Yves Béhar of fuseproject. Taking a visionary, comprehensive approach to Juno, another innovative Fluidigm product, the company is changing the face of life science tools, literally and figuratively.
Even the most cutting-edge realms of science and biotechnology have systems requiring too much time and money and allowing too much room for error. In genotyping, for example, existing lab technology involves numerous time-consuming steps. Starting with initial DNA collection, things can go wrong at several stages, affecting outcome and accuracy and resulting in wasted effort, materials and funds.
Fluidigm set out to solve this problem and identified an even greater opportunity: to redefine the scientific process, and also reimagine the way it looks.
Molecular biology begins with DNA, a challenging source material. Genetic sampling collections must be of sufficient size, concentration and purity. If the sample becomes contaminated or degraded during the collection, handling or preparation process, new DNA is required to complete the experiment or test results can be compromised.
More DNA is not always readily available. Think of samples gathered from surgery, a captive animal released to the wild or a donor unable to return for a second extraction. Or imagine how little DNA is on a cheek swab and how it might degrade over days in the back of a shipping truck. It's critical for scientists to do a lot with little DNA. It has simply been too time consuming, expensive or error prone to do so, until now.
The sophisticated new Juno system integrates complex sample handling and reduces genotyping sample preparation to a one-step process—even with trace samples and challenging materials. This enables scientists to work with samples labs might have otherwise rejected, and eliminates expensive steps and robotics. Instead of multiple hands-on steps over many hours and various hazards between sample handling and genotyping stages, the process is finished and results are back in less than three hours. Simply press a touchscreen button and walk away.
What microchips did for IT, Juno's instrumentation and microfluidics do for biology. Users pipette DNA samples into one side of an integrated fluidic circuit (IFC)—a small plastic rectangle with dozens of inlets on either side. Users then pipette assays into the inlets on the other side. Once the IFC is loaded into Juno, samples and assays push into separate central chambers, creating thousands of reactions.
Traditionally, industrial design has been an afterthought in scientific machinery: aesthetic and user experience consideration is checked at the lab door. Yves Béhar credits Fluidigm for its visionary approach to biology.
"Sometimes science—on a consumer level, an experiential level—undersells its achievements," he explained. "These machines are remarkable. Why aren't they designed in ways that are remarkable as well?"
The name Fluidigm speaks to microfluidics, and fuseproject expressed the concept from a design standpoint. With biology at the inspirational helm, the final Juno product is crafted into a richly textured, organically fluid form. Sleek, even sexy, with a touchscreen interface, Juno is a major departure from conventional laboratory equipment. It's also part of the story of Fluidigm and its mission to motivate scientists through information, content and design.
The approach gets Béhar's seal of approval. "We should be visionary in the way we do everything," he noted. "Not just our biology, not just our science, but also our design, our engineering and our communication—how we connect with customers."