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LifeChips is the study and development of micro- and nano-scale technologies, systems and devices that combines methods developed by life scientists and technologists to help solve fundamental problems in the life sciences and in engineering. As the name suggests, it also represents the merging of two major industries, the microelectronic chip industry with the life science industry.
LifeChips has emerged from a growing research paradigm that combines technology development with the study of life science and medicine at microscopic and smaller size scales. Since the 1990's, governments and industries in the United States, Asia and Europe have initiated major efforts to bring microtechnology and nanotechnology to biology and medicine under such labels as "bioMEMS", "nanomedicine" and "nano-bio". Other initiatives seek to use life-based materials for non-biological applications, such as the use of DNA for transistors. Additionally, high throughput biology products that utilize semiconductor chip technologies, such as lab-on-a-chip, DNA microarrays and protein microarrays, have seen considerable commercial success. These events have driven the need for collaborations among researchers from traditionally different backgrounds and cultures, namely life scientists (biologists, medical researchers) and technologists (physical scientists, engineers). The LifeChips theme encompasses these research topics, as well as the interdisciplinary collaborative efforts themselves.
LifeChips was formally started in 2005 by Professors G.-P. Li (Engineering), Mark Bachman (Engineering), and Nancy Allbritton (Medicine) at the University of California, Irvine as a program to facilitate and support the formation of new collaborations among micro-technologists and life scientists in industry and academia. The LifeChips program quickly grew to include over 30 faculty and dozens of companies.
In the summer of 2006, the National Science Foundation awarded UC Irvine $2.9 million to teach LifeChips to graduate students. The award was part of the NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program (IGERT) that supports interdisciplinary education for doctoral students. This funding is used to provide two-year fellowships to new graduate students ("LifeChips Fellows") in the LifeChips program. LifeChips Fellows must perform Ph.D. research under the guidance of two faculty, one life scientist and one technologist. Additionally, students must take special courses to facilitate cross-disciplinary training. More information about the IGERT program can be found at UC Irvine's LifeChips website: www.lifechips.org.