Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Chemical Engineering

Advisor 1

Adrienne R. Minerick

Committee Member 1

Caryn L. Heldt

Committee Member 2

Lei Pan

Committee Member 3

Feng Zhao


Sensitive and selective chemical/biological detection/analysis for proteins is essential for applications such as disease diagnosis, species phenotype identification, product quality control, and sample examination. Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) device provides advantages of fast analysis, reduced amount of sample requirements, and low cost, to magnificently facilitate protein detection research. Isoelectric focusing (IEF) is a strong and reliable electrophoretic technique capable of discerning proteins from complex mixtures based on the isoelectric point (pI) differences. It has experienced plenty of fruitful developments during previous decades which has given it the capability of performing with highly robust and reproducible analysis. This progress has made IEF devices an excellent tool for chemical/biological detection/analysis purposes. In recent years, the trends of simple instrument setting, rapid analysis, small sample requirement, and light labor intensity have inspired the LOC concept to be combined with IEF to evolve it into an “easily-handled chip with hours of analysis” from the earlier method of “working with big and heavy machines in a few days.” Although IEF is already a mature technique being applied, further LOC-IEF developments are still experiencing challenges related to its limitations such as miniaturizing the device scale without harming the resolving/discerning ability. With the facilitation of newly technologically advanced/improved fabrication tools, it is completely possible to address challenges and approach new limits of LOC-IEF. In this dissertation, a surface enabled printing technique, which can transfer liquid to a surface with prescribed patterns, was firstly introduced to IEF device fabrication. By employing surface enabled printing, a surface enabled IEF (sIEF) device running at a scale of 100 times smaller than those previously reported was designed and fabricated. Commercial carrier ampholytes (PharmalyteTM) with different pH range were engaged to generate a continuous pH gradient on sIEF device. Device design and optimized fabrication conditions were practically investigated; establishment of pH gradient was verified by fluorescent dyes; dependencies of electric field strength and carrier ampholytes concentration were systematically examined. To further optimize the sIEF system, dependencies of surface treatment and additive chemicals were explored. Fluorescent proteins and peptides were tested for the separation capability of sIEF. Finally, the well optimized sIEF system was used as a tool for real protein (hemoglobin variants and monoclonal antibody isoforms) separations. Hemoglobin variants test results revealed that sIEF is capable of separating amphoteric species with pI difference as small as 0.2. Monoclonal protein tests demonstrated the capability of sIEF to be a ready-to-use tool for protein structural change monitoring. In conclusion, this new sIEF approach has lower applied voltages, smaller sample requirements, a relatively quick fabrication process, and reusability, making it more attractive as a portable, user-friendly platform for qualitative protein detection and separation.