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PCR Thermal Cycling Assemblies

The microscopic size and fast response time of Laird's thin-film eTEC thermoelectric modules enable a new generation of PCR thermal cyclers that feature significantly shorter throughput times, smaller sample sizes, and reduced footprint for a compact, field-level design, promoting real-time testing in healthcare, forensics, and food safety.

PCR is a technique widely used in molecular biology to produce millions of copies of a specific DNA sequence in a short period of time. PCR-based testing is used in the diagnosis of hereditary diseases; the identification of genetic fingerprints (used in forensic sciences and paternity testing); and the detection and diagnosis of infectious diseases. The vast majority of PCR methods use thermal cycling, i.e., alternately heating and cooling of the DNA sample based on a predefined series of temperature steps.

A thermal cycler is an automated instrument specifically designed for this purpose. A typical device consists of a metal block with holes where plastic vials holding the PCR reaction mixtures are inserted. The instrument has an integrated heating/cooling unit that is used to systematically raise and lower the temperature of the block.

Rapid Cycle Time

Thermal cycle times in PCR thermal cyclers are determined both by the dwell times during the denaturation, annealing, and extension phases and the thermal transition time between these phases. Thermal cycle time is minimized and throughput maximized by minimizing the transition time between the phases. Conventional PCR systems use large individual sample volumes (e.g.; 100 µL) and temperature transitions at 1 - 5°C/s. However, while most PCR protocols are performed at the 25 µL to 50 µL scale, sample volume as low as 5 µL have also been shown to be successful using thin-film modules.

High Heat Pumping Capability

The high heat pumping capacity per unit area of the thin-film modules, along with their inherent rapid response, enables extremely rapid temperature transitions in the sample. For optimized designs, temperature transition rates in the range of 20°C/s to 30°C/s are feasible for currently used sample volumes. For smaller sample volumes, even faster temperature transitions rates are possible.

Thin-films Pass the Test

Laird has conducted rigorous reliability tests on the eTEC family of thermoelectric modules. The devices have surpassed baseline tests in mechanical shock, thermal storage and power cycling. In a recent power cycling experiment in particular, modules were subjected to over 300,000 power cycles with little change in AC resistance, a key measure of reliability and performance. This result is particularly important as the testing was conducted at an electrical current that far exceeds normal operating conditions, furthering indicating stable device performance over a large number of cycles. In all cases, the results strongly indicate modules are highly reliable for use in PCR thermal cycling applications.

Laird Compact PCR Thermal Cycler Reference Design

Laird has modeled and designed a thermal cycler capable of 1-2 second transition times for 50 µl sample sizes that dramatically improves on the existing conventional Peltier solutions.

In the reference design, the thermal subsystem consists of the sample cartridge holder, support platform, thin-film thermoelectric module with integrated heat spreader interface, and heat sink/fan combination. In conventional PCR systems intended for laboratory usage, multiple samples (e.g., 96 or more) are cycled together using a single large sample side heat spreader and a bulk thermoelectric device. However, the current market shift towards doctor's office or patient side usage systems only need to handle one to four samples at a time with potentially different protocol thermal requirements for each sample. The microscopic size of the Laird eTEC enables different temperatures in different parts of the block – something that cannot be achieved with conventional technology.

Laird recommends the use of its thermal modeling, design and engineering services to deliver fully-optimized PCR thermal cycling solutions. Contact us for more information.

Technical Documents

Laird has modeled and designed a thermal cycler capable of 1-2 second transition times for 50 µl sample sizes that dramatically improves on the existing conventional Peltier solutions. Click on the Technical Documents below to learn more about PCR thermal cycling with thin-film thermoelectrics from Laird.





Close-up of compact PCR thermal cycler

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Typical structure of a compact PCR thermal
cycler using thin-film thermoelectric devices

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Thin-Film TE modules designed specifically
for PCR thermal cycling

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