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Langmuir. 2012 Jan 24;28(3):1931-41. doi: 10.1021/la204399m. Epub 2012 Jan 10.

Control of initiation, rate, and routing of spontaneous capillary-driven flow of liquid droplets through microfluidic channels on SlipChip.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, The University of Chicago, 929 East 57th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, United States.

Abstract

This Article describes the use of capillary pressure to initiate and control the rate of spontaneous liquid-liquid flow through microfluidic channels. In contrast to flow driven by external pressure, flow driven by capillary pressure is dominated by interfacial phenomena and is exquisitely sensitive to the chemical composition and geometry of the fluids and channels. A stepwise change in capillary force was initiated on a hydrophobic SlipChip by slipping a shallow channel containing an aqueous droplet into contact with a slightly deeper channel filled with immiscible oil. This action induced spontaneous flow of the droplet into the deeper channel. A model predicting the rate of spontaneous flow was developed on the basis of the balance of net capillary force with viscous flow resistance, using as inputs the liquid-liquid surface tension, the advancing and receding contact angles at the three-phase aqueous-oil-surface contact line, and the geometry of the devices. The impact of contact angle hysteresis, the presence or absence of a lubricating oil layer, and adsorption of surface-active compounds at liquid-liquid or liquid-solid interfaces were quantified. Two regimes of flow spanning a 10(4)-fold range of flow rates were obtained and modeled quantitatively, with faster (mm/s) flow obtained when oil could escape through connected channels as it was displaced by flowing aqueous solution, and slower (micrometer/s) flow obtained when oil escape was mostly restricted to a micrometer-scale gap between the plates of the SlipChip ("dead-end flow"). Rupture of the lubricating oil layer (reminiscent of a Cassie-Wenzel transition) was proposed as a cause of discrepancy between the model and the experiment. Both dilute salt solutions and complex biological solutions such as human blood plasma could be flowed using this approach. We anticipate that flow driven by capillary pressure will be useful for the design and operation of flow in microfluidic applications that do not require external power, valves, or pumps, including on SlipChip and other droplet- or plug-based microfluidic devices. In addition, this approach may be used as a sensitive method of evaluating interfacial tension, contact angles, and wetting phenomena on chip.

PMID:
22233156
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3271727
Free PMC Article
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