Small plumbing, big results



A project led by Heriot-Watt academics and funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering has allowed pupils from Liberton High School to advance a £11.5 million research project by designing a microfluidic system to help fight lung disease.

To hear the pupils talking to the engineers about microfluidics was a joy.
Bill Harris

The Liberton pupils were first introduced to microengineering last year as a part of the ‘Small Plumbing!’ project, led by Dr Maiwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas and Dr Helen Bridle from Heriot-Watt and funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

University researchers visited the school and described to pupils a current challenge related to their research. Together, the teams designed a microfluidic solution to the problem. Microfluidics, or ‘lab-on-a-chip’, allows for the manipulation of fluids in channels the size of a human hair.

Since fluids behave very differently at this scale, entirely new types of systems can be designed and these ‘labs-on-a-chip’ are predicted to revolutionise healthcare in the coming years.

Helping critically ill people

A team of students from the school won a special award for their chip design and report and will now share their development with PROTEUS, a large interdisciplinary research collaboration involving the Universities of Edinburgh and Bath, and Heriot-Watt. The project, which is funded by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to build a medical device to help to improve diagnosis of lung disease in critically ill patients.

Liberton High School teacher, Bill Harris said, “We have been delighted to work with the Small Plumbing! project on engineering solutions to real science problems. The pupils have gained a tremendous insight into the work of engineers and how many disciplines have to work together in science. To hear the pupils talking to the engineers about microfluidics was a joy. They quickly grasped the possibilities and came up with their own ideas.”