Local interactions between (bio)chemicals and biological interfaces play an important role in fields ranging from surface patterning to cell toxicology. These interactions can be studied using microfluidic systems that operate in the "open space", that is, without the need for the sealed channels and chambers commonly used in microfluidics. This emerging class of techniques localizes chemical reactions on biological interfaces or specimens without imposing significant "constraints" on samples, such as encapsulation, pre-processing steps, or the need for scaffolds. They therefore provide new opportunities for handling, analyzing, and interacting with biological samples. The motivation for performing localized chemistry is discussed, as are the requirements imposed on localization techniques. Three classes of microfluidic systems operating in the open space, based on microelectrochemistry, multiphase transport, and hydrodynamic flow confinement of liquids are presented.
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