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Institute for Commercialization

Integrated dielectric elastomer actuators (IDEAs) for use on microfluidic devices

Reference Number: K 09-09

Inventors: Culbertson, Chris; Price, Alexander

Owner: Kansas State University Research Foundation


Invention Summary

Researchers at Kansas State University have developed a microfluidic device that eliminates the need for large, off-chip equipment in chemical analysis systems.   The problem with the current state of the art is that highly integrated microfluidic systems rely upon large, off-chip equipment such as syringe pumps, vacuum pumps and air cylinders. The solution is a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)-based microfluidic device incorporating fully integrated dielectric elastomer actuators that has the ability to change its shape in response to an electric field.

Putting this “smart” functionality to use, a thin layer of PDMS is sandwiched between a patterned electrode and a microfluidic channel, forming a capacitor. In this configuration, the electrolyte-filled channel is used as a flexible electrode, which is necessary in order to achieve actuation. When a potential is applied between the electrode and the channel, the thin PDMS layer is deformed and the volume of the channel increases. When the potential is removed, the PDMS layer relaxes and the channel returns to its original volume. During each of these “strokes”, fluid in the channel network is pulled into or expelled out from the actuator region.


  • Inexpensive and rapid fabrication

  • Eliminates the need for large equipment, increasing portability

  • Generates non-biased injections

  • Non-hysteretic cycling


Mixers, injectors, pumps

  • Diagnostics

  • Analytics

  • Drug delivery

  • Segmented-flow systems