Bee-trap manufacturers like to use a chemical substance called pheromones to attract bees into traps and away from people. Problem is, they don’t always work.

Providing the right amount of pheromones is imperative. Too many pheromones or too much of one of its components repels bees, and the amount of pheromones that is optimal for attracting bees may vary during a day, depending on temperature and light. Prashanta Dutta, assistant professor in mechanical and materials engineering, has been working with Spokane-based Sterling International to build a better bee trap-one in which the release of very tiny amounts of pheromones can be carefully monitored and adjusted.

Dutta, who is part of Washington State University’s Micro-Scale Thermo Fluid group, is developing a micro-fluidic-based bioreactor to synthesize insect pheromones. The micro-bioreactor will precisely dispense the exact amount of ingredients to best attract insects.

The group’s main focus is to develop an electrokinetic-based micro-pumping technology that is cheap, quiet, reliable, and environmentally friendly. Recently, they built the first-generation micropump on a polymeric chip that measures two microns by 300 microns by two centimeters, or about one-fifth the thickness of a human hair, and is driven by a three-volt battery.

Micro-fluidic technology takes advantage of chemical properties of liquids and the electrical properties of semi-conductor materials. At the microscopic level, the electrochemical properties of liquids are very dominant. This unique characteristic is very suitable for selective control of chemical and biological molecules or components in a sample solution. Dutta has been studying these unique properties of fluids in micro-scale that could possibly be utilized in a variety of chemical, biological, and bio-analytical fields.