Microfluidics, the technology of handling liquids on an extremely small scale, promises to enter the commercial marketplace in a big way during the next three years. This so-called lab-on-a-chip technology may offer enormous cost advantages in scientific processes ranging from artificial insemination in cattle to lab analyses in hospitals. Scientists expect it to increase the efficiency of biological tests and analyses by requiring far smaller amounts of samples.

Surabhi Garg, industry manager for drug discovery technology at the Palo Alto, Calif.-based market research firm of Frost & Sullivan, estimates the microfluidics market at $3.4 billion by 2004. "We are talking about an emerging industry. It will have an explosive growth," she says. According to Garg, what's driving this market is the promise of replacing an array of laboratory apparatuses with a microchip that can be put into a personal computer.

Garg is not...

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