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We develop microfluidic microdroplet reactors for applications in biology and material sciences. Experiments are carried out in small water droplets, separated from each other by a continuous oil phase, within a microfluidic channel. We develop devices to generate and manipulate the droplets, and develop new analytical approaches to follow what is happening, on a very small scale, inside the droplets.


We use microdroplets to select algal strains that produce high levels of lipids or secrete high concentrations of ethanol. This work is in collaboration with Professor Alison Smith  at the Department of Plant Sciences. 

These two images show the growth of microalgae, C. reinhardtiicells, inside the same droplets: Fig (i) is taken on Day 3, Fig (ii) is taken on Day 6. Quantitative tracking of the growth of individual algal cells in microdroplet compartments. Integr.Biol. 2011, 3, 1043-1051

Growth of microalgae, C. reinhardtiicells, inside microdroplets


We have developed new approaches to encapsulation, in a collaboration with Professor Oren Scherman (Melville Polymer Synthesis Laboratory), using supramolecular chemistry to make capsules and capsules-within-capsules.

Schematic representation of the proposed microcapsule formation process from the initial droplet stage with a diameter ddroplet to the dehydrated stable capsules of a diameter of dcapsule. One-Step Fabrication of Supramolecular Microcapsules from Microfluidic Droplets. Science 2012, 335, 690-694

Single cell sequencing

We are developing new ways of using microdroplets to select single cells for RNA sequencing and DNA genome sequencing:

(i) In a collaboration with Professor Steve Charnock-Jones (Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology), we are developing ways of using microdroplets to encapsulate individual cells from the placenta to facilitate single cell RNA sequencing. This is part of a research study to map the different types of cells found in the placenta and to understand the key regulatory steps involved when trophoblast cells differentiate.

(ii) We are looking at using microdroplets to capture very small samples of DNA materials from fossil specimens for DNA genome sequencing, in a collaboration with Professor Eske Willerslev  at the Department of Zoology. This work offers a highly promising approach to help us draw evolutionary inferences on how some species responded to environmental and ecological changes.

Related Publications 

Cucurbit[$n$]uril-Based Microcapsules Self-Assembled within Microfluidic Droplets: A Versatile Approach for Supramolecular Architectures and Materials
J Liu, Y Lan, Z Yu, CSY Tan, RM Parker, C Abell, OA Scherman – Accounts of chemical research (2017) 50, 208
Label-Free Analysis and Sorting of Microalgae and Cyanobacteria in Microdroplets by Intrinsic Chlorophyll Fluorescence for the Identification of Fast Growing Strains
RJ Best, JJ Lyczakowski, S Abalde-Cela, Z Yu, C Abell, AG Smith – Anal Chem (2016) 88, 10445
Interfacial assembly of dendritic microcapsules with host–guest chemistry
Y Zheng, Z Yu, RM Parker, Y Wu, C Abell, OA Scherman – Nature Communications (2014) 5, 5772
Evolution of enzyme catalysts caged in biomimetic gel-shell beads
M Fischlechner, Y Schaerli, MF Mohamed, S Patil, C Abell, F Hollfelder – Nature chemistry (2014) 6, 791
One-step fabrication of supramolecular microcapsules from microfluidic droplets
J Zhang, RJ Coulston, ST Jones, J Geng, OA Scherman, C Abell – Science (2012) 335, 690

Microdroplets Spin-Outs


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