Development of droplet-based microfluidic devices for microdroplet trapping and pairing
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The droplet based microfluidic technology has become indispensable in many chemical, biomedical research and high-throughput assay applications. The ability to controllably merge droplets within flow systems is of high importance when performing complex chemical or biological analysis. However, in order to perform controlled fusion reaction one needs to perform controlled droplet trapping and pairing. Recent microfluidic systems are capable of pairing the droplets by using unstabilized flow pattern. Controlled droplet pairing and fusion, especially for same-sized droplet pairing, is still a challenge, mostly because of the difficulty to manipulate droplets. It is also seen that it requires to control the droplet generation along with the flow rate control simultaneously which is also difficult to realize. In our research, a serial flowing microfluidic system and an obstruction based microfluidic system are presented for checking the droplet flow pattern along the system using hydrodynamic resistance phenomenon. In addition to this, we also checked the device working for droplet generation along with sequential trapping and pairing of aqueous micro-droplets of different liquids. It is more robust as compared to the prior research done in this area. These systems are competent of accomplishing multiple functions including droplet generation, transportation, trapping and merging on a single integrated device. These devices consist of three different functional regions: flow focusing droplet generator; a single droplet trap region and pairing region. Our designs were based on the principle of exploiting hydrodynamic resistance of the columnar structure in the microfluidic channel. The device designs include two inlets for oil and water. Similar structure was embedded at the outlet for the generation of second droplet of different liquid. In a typical scenario, droplets would be generated at the T-junction and would travel through the microfluidic channel to enter the single droplet trapping area. During the reverse flow, the trapped droplets in the first phase would be released and would enter the pairing chamber. These droplets would be held until another droplet of different liquid to combine with it. Second droplet would travel in the reverse flow direction and would be trapped in the pairing chamber along with the first droplet to combine with it. Deionized water and gel were used as the aqueous phase and mineral oil as the oil phase. 2% (w/w) Span-80 was used as surfactant. These devices were also simulated using PSpice and COMSOL Multiphysics to verify the droplet trapping and pairing sequences before fabrication. Finally, we designed and tested the double droplet trapping system in a serial flowing microfluidic device along with the obstruction based microfluidic device. The efficiency for single droplet trapping in forward flow was about 99%, single droplet trapping in reverse flow direction was about 90-95% for both serial and obstruction based microfluidic device. For droplet pairing, the serial microfluidic device had an efficiency of 40-45% where as the obstruction based microfluidic had 60-65% efficiency. These devices were very simple and could very efficiently trap two different liquid droplets in a chamber without merging and with the help of an external electric field they could be selectively merged.